HARTFORD, CT — Connecticut Attorney General William Tong is calling on two do-it-yourself rape kit companies to tell him whether they comply with Connecticut’s rape kit standards.
Tong sent letters to MeToo Kits in Brooklyn, New York and The Preserve Group in New Jersey asking the companies for more information about why they believe their products comply with Connecticut laws and whether they are being properly marketed. The two companies have been targeted by other attorneys general.
Earlier this year, New York Attorney General Letitia James and Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter sent cease and desist orders to the same companies.
In the case of the MeToo Kits, the company was still in the development phase and not yet selling its kits. The PRESERVEkit, which was previously being sold on Amazon, is no longer available for purchase. The company posted a message on its website saying “we will not be selling this product while we review the legal concerns.”
Jane Mason, the retired FBI special agent who co-founded PRESERVEkit, said in a Sept. 15 letter posted on the website that not one person has asked her about why she believes the evidence collected with the kit would be admissible in court.
“Because of cease and desist letters, untruths all over the media and in press conferences, and the hostile and threatening atmosphere this has created, we regret to say we are removing most of the information from our website,” Mason wrote. “We will be back as soon as possible because we are going to continue to help the 77%.”
Mason has said she created the kits because 77% of survivors never report their sexual assault or have a medical exam.
Mason was not immediately available for comment Thursday.
MeToo Kits said in a statement that it believes survivors have the right to collect evidence of their assault, independent from the traditional legal and health systems.
The company said that “no rape kit — not even the government one — is automatically admissible in court. A judge determines admissibility in each instance, based on the underlying evidence.”
Tong said these kits might provide a false sense of security for sexual assault providers about the evidence they are collecting. They also limit the access survivors may have to services and medicine.
Asia Nhatavong, a justice coordinator at the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence, said these companies have expressed their intent to help survivors but “intent is not always enough and intent is not impact.”
Nhatavong said the kits don’t help a survivor during their journey through the process evidence collections or the benefits of certified professionals.
She said Connecticut’s rape kit is a 12 step kit includes emergency contraception, medication to help a survivor from contracting HIV and medications that can prevent the three most common sexually transmitted infections. She said she doesn’t believe any of that is included in the DIY kits.
“Additionally, trained advocates can provide support and guidance in multiple areas like trauma informed care, crisis deescalation, ground techniques, safety planning and that is not something you can get at home doing this on your own,” Nhatavong said.
Waterbury State’s Attorney Maureen Platt said administering a sexual assault kit is not a simple matter.
“In Connecticut we have specific guidelines for healthcare providers,” Platt said.
She said the certified sexual assault forensic examiners go through training on how best to collect that evidence.
“Without this training it is possible to permanently destroy items of evidentiary value,” Platt, who heads the 15 member evidence commission, said.
She said survivors can go to a hospital and have these kits done and no cost even if they decide not to report the matter to police. If they decide not to report the assault to police the kit will be held for five years.
She said every other sexual assault case taken at the hospital is processed. The hospital must send the kit to the lab within 15 days and the lab has 60 days to process it.
There is no longer a backlog of rape kits in Connecticut. The 1,100 kits waiting to be processed have been processed thanks to grant funding.