Horry County officials warn about at-home rape kits

DIY Rape Kit Controversy

HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - Two companies are under fire for making do-it-yourself rape kits for sexual assault survivors.

Some critics of the DIY rape kits said some things shouldn’t be done at home and it’s better to leave it up to the professionals, especially when it comes to a serious case like sexual assault.

The idea behind the kits is survivors of rape and sexual assault can preserve evidence from the safety of their home, but officials are warning people to stay away.

These DIY rape kits are a fairly new idea, with the purpose of giving sexual assault victims a way to capture time-sensitive evidence if they are unwilling or unable to go to the hospital. Members of the Horry County Rape Crisis Center said they’re not on board with this new product.

“It’s very difficult for a survivor to go to the hospital, talk about what’s happened, go through the sexual assault kit, so they were kind of trying to do something that would help maybe be a little less invasive. So, the premises behind it is a good idea, but there’s a lot of issues when you try to turn something back to a person that is an evidence collection piece,” said Tracy Bowie, executive director of the Horry County Rape Crisis Center.

A former FBI special agent launched the "Preserve Kit.” The product was available on Amazon for just under $40. Creators of another DIY rape kit, called the “MeToo Kit,” are planning a pilot program to distribute kits on college campuses next year.

In recent weeks, several state attorneys generals have sent warnings about both products, as well as cease-and-desist letters. Due to the backlash, “Preserve Kit” pulled its products from the market in September.

Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson said there are many flaws with the notion of an at-home rape kit giving victims a false sense of security.

The idea of coming forward after becoming a victim of sexual violence can be very scary. The idea alone is enough to make a person second guess themselves, but when a person makes the decision to go to the hospital, the hospital staff are trained in comfort and care during a time when a person needs it the most.

Critics argue the DIY rape kits could deter survivors from getting professional medical care and that the kit itself wouldn’t hold up in court.

“I think you’re losing a lot when you try to give somebody a kit to do that is an evidence collection process. Even if they take that straight to the police station and let them file it, there’s so many things that could happen when you’re trying to collect that evidence yourself. Not being a trained medical professional, you don’t know what exactly to do in that process. It could get contaminated,” said Bowie.

At-home test kit users wouldn’t get the treatment for possible pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and trauma from the assault. Richardson said the DIY kits jeopardize the value of evidence that can be crucial in court, noting the chain of custody for evidence in court cases must be carefully guarded.

“I can’t see any way to get a at-home kit admissible in court. So, it’s pretty much worthless for the court situation. You do not have a chain of custody and no judge would let that in. It is fungible or changeable evidence. It’s something that you can’t say if I’ve got a car that is not fungible, because I can look at a number that’s imprinted on the car and says that car belongs here, but blood, semen, hair, you can’t readily identify it. So it takes strict chain of custody to prove that’s who it is,” said Richardson.

Officials also point out at-home rape kit users wouldn't get the counseling, advocacy and support that automatically comes to anyone who gets a sexual assault kit by a trained medical provider at no cost.

Richardson added it not only jeopardizes the value of evidence that can be crucial in court, but it’s also unlikely these kits will have access to the national DNA database known as CODIS, which would significantly limit the ability to identify unknown perpetrators or repeat offenders.

“There are times that our perpetrator is not someone that we know and when that happens, when there is a non-consensual forced rape situation by somebody that we do not know and can’t readily identify, the police don’t just give up on that. They take the sampling from the sexual assault kit and put it in this huge computer,” said Richardson

WMBF News reached out to the “MeToo Kit” company online for a statement and have yet to hear back.

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