Boulder County officials skeptical of new MeToo Kit for sex assault victims

Boulder's MESA, University of Colorado issue warnings regarding product

MeToo Kit, a product being marketed by a Brooklyn-based company, has come under scrutiny from prosecutors and victim advocacy groups.
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Some Boulder County officials and victim advocacy groups have expressed concerns about the new MeToo Kit, a product marketed as a way for rape victims to do their own sexual assault examinations at home.

The kits are not yet currently for sale, but a website detailing the product said the kit will contain swabs and bags to seal DNA evidence, along with a corresponding mobile app.

“The MeToo Kit is designed to address the problem associated with traditional sexual assault kits available to survivors,” the website reads. “Most importantly, our kit empowers survivors to accurately collect evidence in a setting and timing of their choice.”

But the kits have come under heavy scrutiny from victim groups and prosecutors who question both the safety of encouraging victims not to seek out exams and the legal consequences of the DIY-nature of the DNA collection.

Boulder County’s Moving to End Sexual Assault sent out a series of tweets warning people about using the kits.

“I think it puts out some potentially false expectations,” said Dr. Janine D’Anniballe, the director of MESA.

Victims who are seen by a sexual assault nurse examiner receive more than just a DNA swab, she said.

“It’s not just evidence collection,” D’Anniballe said. “It’s designed to actually provide comprehensive health care following a sexual assault. There can be other consequences of a sexual assault that a SANE nurse would address.”

In addition, D’Anniballe said she worried a person doing the test on themselves with no support may actually have the opposite of the intended effect.

“The whole SANE exam is designed to be a trauma-informed exam to make it comfortable for the victim and so they can also receive support,” she said. “Victim advocates meet the survivor at the hospital to provide support and information. That’s a huge piece, versus someone just dealing with this in isolation.”

But Madison Campbell, the cofounder and CEO of MeToo Kit and a sexual assault survivor, said the kits are not designed to replace medical exams.

The kit, which has not been sold or offered (for) sale, is in the early stages of development,” Campbell wrote in an email to the Camera. “In addition, I am not suggesting that survivors use the kit and forgo a health exam. We believe that every survivor should be encouraged to seek proper health care after an assault and we encourage users to do this, however, there is still a large portion of survivors who never get the chance to go to the hospital.”

But the other concerning aspect for some has been the possible legal ramifications of a sexual assault victim using the kits and whether they would be allowed as evidence in a trial.

“SANE nursers are trained on the importance of chain of custody issues for the evidence and its admissibility into court,” D’Anniballe said. “If people were to collect such evidence at home, it could be compromised as far as its admissibility into court. It may not result in what a victim would want to get out of it.”

Elyse Diewald, left, the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program coordinator for Boulder Community Health’s Foothills Hospital and UCHealth in northern Colorado, talks to Boulder police Detective Kristin Weisbach about the SANE unit at UCHealth’s Longs Peak Hospital in Longmont on Aug. 3.

Chief Trial Deputy Catrina Weigel, the head of the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office Sexual Assault Unit, said since the kits aren’t yet available for sale it would be too early for the office to comment on them.

But other prosecutors have been quicker in their criticism of the kits. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel released a scathing statement regarding MeToo Kits and sent the company a cease and desist letter.

“This company is shamelessly trying to take financial advantage of the ‘Me Too’ movement by luring victims into thinking that an at-home-do-it-yourself sexual assault kit will stand up in court,” Nessel said in the statement. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Career prosecutors know that evidence collected in this way would not provide the necessary chain of custody. And it is unlikely any private lab would have access to CODIS (Combined DNA Index System, a national DNA data base created and maintained by the FBI), which would significantly limit the ability to identify unknown perpetrators or repeat offenders.”

Campbell told the Camera the products are still being developed, and that admissibility in court is one of the things on which the company is working.

“We have consulted with a number of lawyers about chain of custody and admissibility standards,” Campbell wrote. “Again, a significant portion of the development involves ensuring that the kit’s hardware and software can meet these legal standards. We would like to work with the Michigan AG, and AGs across the country in order to create the strongest possible product. We believe this to be a crucial time for allies who support sexual assault survivors to stand together to serve the population that chooses not to report or ends up outside the traditional criminal justice system.

“If cellphone transcripts, social media and more can be admissible — we believe in the future so will this. An at-home forensic test has never been done before, and we want to work with the correct institutions to ensure we make this admissible. We believe in survivors’ right to self-test and want to work with the courts and legal institutions to make that a reality.”

As for the insinuation she was trying to profit off of the Me Too movement, Campbell said as a sex assault survivor she was simply inspired by the movement.

“As a survivor of sexual assault, the #MeToo movement is what encouraged me to move forward on this product,” Campbell wrote. “The kit was named MeToo because it immediately identifies what the kit is there to support: survivors of sexual assault who have been silenced.

“If the name of the product interferes with helping survivors, I will change the name.”

But for now, MESA has warned the University of Colorado Boulder about the product, and CU Boulder has aligned with the Campus Advocacy and Prevention Professionals Association’s position and is discouraging students from using the product if and when it comes out.

“The (Office of Victim Assistance) shared MESA’s message about the kits on Facebook and alerted campus and community partners about the concerns regarding the kits,” said CU Boulder spokeswoman Melanie Marquez Parra. “Our Office of Victim Assistance does not recommend using at-home kits for this purpose.”

If you are a victim of sexual assault

Contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673or MESA’s 24-hour hotline at 303-443-7300

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