Virginia's Attorney General warns against DIY sexual assault evidence kits

ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) - Virginia's Attorney General is joining at least one other Attorney General in criticizing new products billed as at-home rape test kits.

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The recently-released products allow sexual abuse victims to forego a kit done at professional facilities and instead collect the evidence on themselves.

One such product, PRESERVEkit, is available for purchase online. Another, the Me Too Kit, is in the development phase with plans to launch next year.

Attorney General Mark Herring delivered a statement Tuesday addressing concerns that he and other state prosecutors have about how effective the kits might be.

Herring said first and foremost he has concerns that survivors of a sexual assault might not get additional resources they may need following their trauma, such as a more extensive medical exam for injuries.

"I think these kits are perhaps well intended," Laura Guilliams said, "but very likely incredibly misguided."

Guilliams, the Crisis Response Director at Sexual Assault Response and Awareness in Roanoke is also worried that those who use at-home kits might not have access to trauma-informed counselors who can assist with emotional and mental health needs.

"Those who don't have that support often don't go through many processes because it's overwhelming," she said, "there are a lot of questions."

Guilliams said trained professionals make sure Physical Evidence Recovery Kits, or PERKS are done correctly and that they make it to the right place.

It's a concern she shares with Katie Polidoro, the Title IX coordinator for Virginia Tech.

"If someone were to come to my office with this kind of evidence, first I don't have any way of keeping it that preserves the integrity of it," she said.

Polidoro also said the conversation on these kits really began just a week ago. Her first impression was that it was a creative solution to a problem, but she also has questions and concerns, including questions over how admissible the evidence could be in court.

Herring said in his statement that the in-home kits give survivors false hope that evidence collected might be used in a criminal proceeding, when such evidence could be ruled inadmissible because of chain of custody issues.

Herring worries about the way he says some of the kits is being marketed to universities in Virginia, though he could not name any specifically.

The Me Too Kit indeed makes mention of partnerships with universities, writing of its pilot program, "Every campus must have a plan. Every campus must have resources for sexual assault survivors. Every campus needs MeToo Kit."

Polidaro said she hadn't yet been contacted by any of these companies. But she notes that she also doesn't want students to think they need a PERK done in order to contact her office.

WDBJ7 also reached out to Virginia's Department of Forensic Services. Brad Jenkins,DNA Program Manager for Virginia Dept of Forensic Science said the departments had not yet seen any of these kits, but that he shared the same concerns as the Attorney General. He is also concerned that they might not be able to be processed or searched in the database.

WDBJ7 reached out to Madison Campbell, 23, the CEO of the Me Too Kit. Campbell, who said she is a survivor of a sexual abuse incident that happened in college, said she created her company to give people more options.

"The product was created to address the overwhelming number of individuals that do not move forward and reporter their sexual assault," Campbell said.

Campbell, whose company is based in Brooklyn, New York, said her product hasn't even launched yet. She plans to make the product available early next year.

Campbell said she is not daunted by the criticism. She wants to work with the critics to develop a strong product that can allow people to complete kits from the comfort of their home. She noted she believes if cell phone call detail records and text messages can be admissible in court, her kit ought to be as well.

She wants victims to use her kits in conjunction with other professional counseling services, but said those services could eventually be made available via telemedicine.

"We want to work with the correct institutes including the Virginia AG to ensure that by the time we launch, you know, we are addressing all the criticism and backlash around the chain of custody," she said.

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