Local sexual assault nurse examiners are criticizing do-it-yourself rape kits, which promise buyers a confidential way to collect and preserve evidence of the crimes they endured.
Many rape victims don’t want to go to the hospital, part of the advertised appeal of the at-home kits.
“What they not telling survivors and victims is that you can’t use that (home kit) for anything,” said Kristen Floyd, executive director of Safe Harbor Crisis Center in Kaysville. “There’s no chain of evidence for a home kit. You can’t take that into court to use it to prosecute your perpetrator.”
Jeanlee Carver, executive director of Northern Utah Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners in Ogden, agreed home kits probably do not provide evidence that is admissible in court.
That’s because evidence must follow an accepted chain of custody recognized by law enforcement and the courts.
Floyd and Carver were reacting to the emergence of do-it-yourself products such as the MeToo Kit and PRESERVEkit.
Makers of those kits are fighting back against the criticism, although they do not guarantee admissibility of evidence.
“A blanket statement that a victim collecting evidence of sexual assault with an at-home kit does not apply,” the company selling PRESERVEkit says on its website. “Every person within the chain of custody is responsible for the proper handling of evidence.”
The MeToo Kit seller says its kit is “able to collect DNA samples and other tissues, which upon testing can provide the necessary time-sensitive evidence required in a court of law to identify a sexual predator’s involvement with sexual assault.”
Beyond the evidence question, Floyd said a victim relying on a home kit is deprived of “wrap around service” for sexual assault that agencies like hers provide.
“This isn’t like a pregnancy kit,” she said.
Confidential exams by certified sexual assault nurse examiners are offered by Safe Harbor’s Davis Forensic Nurses program and by NUSANE.
The nurses provide medical care and advocacy services such as access to therapists, and coordination with law enforcement in custody of the kits, Floyd said.
“These exams are not done in an emergency room,” Floyd said. “Everything is very confidential and private.”
“The victim can choose not to have law enforcement involved, can choose not to have the kit tested,” Floyd said. “The victim is in charge of everything they want to do or not do with that kit.”
Plus, NUSANE and Safe Harbor provide all services at no cost to the victims.
“If you just do a home kit and you need medical care, guess who pays for that? The victims,” Floyd said.
The PRESERVEkit sells for $29.95.
“This person who has really undergone a violent crime has not had the opportunity to receive medical attention, documentation of wounds and injuries,” Carver said. “Our concern is always about the victim, that they receive the care, advocacy and support that they need and deserve.”
Wasatch Forensic Nurses, based in Salt Lake City, also opposes the self-administered kits.
Physical and genital injuries will not be documented without a sexual assault forensic examination, the Wasatch group said in a news release.
About 72% of sexual assault victims have physical injuries and 51% have genital injuries, according to the group.
“Assessment, documentation and treatment of these injuries following sexual assault is important for health, investigative, and legal reasons,” the release said.
Forensic nurse agencies also provide free medications to prevent sexual transmitted infections or pregnancy.
“We believe purchasing at-home sexual assault kits does not provide any benefit to victims,” NUSANE said in a news release, adding that it urged victim advocates to help educate the public about the “harmful consequences” of using home kits.
NUSANE counseled victims to request forensic examinations through police, healthcare providers, advocacy or hospital emergency departments within five days of the assault.