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Health, law enforcement officials concerned about at-home sexual assault kits

Health, law enforcement officials concerned about at-home sexual assault kits

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - Health and law enforcement officials are concerned about new at-home sexual assault kits. The companies that make the packages market them as ways to collect evidence if survivors try to pursue charges later, though some worry they may do more harm than good. 

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 24.9% of sexual assaults were reported to police in 2018, compared to 40.4% in 2017. These kits are aimed at survivors who do not have the ability or do not want to go to the police or hospital to gather evidence. 

Local health experts are worried that victims are losing out on other services and may not be able to use the evidence they collect. There are two new at-home kits that are drawing scrutiny-- the MeToo kit and PRESERVEkit. 

"Are you a victim of sexual assault? If you don't get a sexual assault examination by trained personnel, you have the option of saving your evidence and giving it to authorities in the future," said Jane Mason, the co-founder of PRESERVEkit, in a video on the company's website.  

But there are a few problems with this according to Gundersen emergency room nurse Miranda Schmidt. One of the issues is that a survivor may have other immediate medical needs.

"The trauma-informed care that we can provide in the emergency department, the medication to prevent sexually transmitted infections and prevent pregnancy as well," said Schmidt, a sexual assault examiner. 

Schmidt and her colleagues are trained in evidence collection and are able to provide a clear chain of custody through the police department and then state crime lab.

"I'm concerned that maybe these kits will not be allowed in a court of law because they have been collected at home," said Schmidt. 

PRESERVEkit has a statement on its website saying that there are many reasons why evidence would or would not be admissible in court. It added that every person within the chain of custody is responsible for the proper handling of evidence.

Schmidt said that she and other staff are trained in how to swab and collect samples for sexual assault kits. Mason admits that others recieve this specific training in the video posted to the product's website. 

"It's common sense that people trained in evidence collection could obtain a higher quality of evidence than someone not trained," Mason said. 

But she goes on to claim that collecting your own evidence is the next best thing. 

"Crime victims give evidence to law enforcement all day, every day. Sexual assault is no different," Mason said. 

Schmidt worries that taking the at-home kit doesn't address the resources that survivors may need in the days, weeks and years ahead. 

"We go step by step and provide them with whatever resources they choose," Schmidt said.  

One of the problems is the costs. The MeToo Kit doesn't have a price yet but the PRESERVEkit costs about $30 on Amazon. But the Violence Against Women Act requires states to provide sexual assault exams for free to receive critical anti-crime grants. Gundersen Health System said it would work with people if any additional services are required. 

At least one Attorney General directly addressed these kits. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel warned the "Me Too Kits" company is violating several parts of the state's Consumer Protection Act. It warned the company that it would have to agree not to sell the kits to customers in Michigan

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