New York's attorney general sent the founders of two do-it-yourself rape kit products cease-and-desist letters on Wednesday, with the companies responding that they will fight back against accusations that they are profiting by misleading sexual assault survivors.
Letitia James, who became New York's top law enforcement official this year, directed the makers of MeToo Kit and Preservekit to stop advertising and selling their sexual assault evidence kits for at-home use after widespread concerns from law enforcement, sexual assault advocacy groups, and medical professionals.
James joins Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, who in late August also ordered MeToo Kit to cease and desist.
“I am deeply concerned about companies selling kits that deter individuals from seeking professional care and purport to collect evidence without knowing whether the evidence will be admissible in court,” James said in a statement. “We must ensure that all survivors of sexual assault are not misled and that justice is served.”
Since Brooklyn-based company MeToo Kit launched its website claiming to have designed “the first at-home kit for commercial use,” attorneys general in Virginia and North Carolina, along with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, have also issued warnings against using self-administered evidence collection kits after sexual assaults.
But those warnings and cease-and-desist demands have not deterred the 23-year-old founder of MeToo Kit, Madison Campbell, from moving ahead with developing the DIY rape kit.
“I believe in this so much that I am willing to fight,” Campbell told BuzzFeed News Thursday. “I will never stop fighting and if that requires legislation to change, then I will stand up in court and I will make sure survivors have the right to take control of their own body.”
The attorneys general slammed MeToo Kit for advertising several dangerous and misleading claims on its website, including the kit’s ability help sexual assault survivors collect forensic evidence that may be admissible in a court of law and that the kit would act as a “hopeful deterrent to assault.”
Campbell responded to the criticism, saying she has “no idea” if the kit will live up to the claims advertised on her company’s website because the kit has not yet been made and is in “very early stages of development.”
“To be fair, we haven’t even made the kit, so we can’t make any claims,” Campbell said. “Every claim that we make is something that we think might be able to happen. But we have no idea, because it has not happened, but we’re very clear when we say, ‘it could be.’”
She said that the website, launched less than two months ago, was “not meant for consumers” and was targeted at potential investors. She hopes to launch the product early next year.
“We had no idea it would explode like this,” she said.
Several attorneys general pointed out that their states offered evidence collection kits and forensic examinations free of charge to sexual assault survivors.
“It is unconscionable that this company is suggesting that victims pay for a kit that likely won’t help bring a rapist to justice,” North Carolina AG Josh Stein said in a statement last week.
“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 a statement. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Nessel added that evidence collected by a do-it-yourself kit “would not provide the necessary chain of custody.”
The attorneys general also slammed the makers of the DIY kits for preventing sexual assault survivors from getting necessary health care services they need following an assault and for likely undermining the work of law enforcement agencies.
“Your advertisements do a grave disservice to survivors of sexual assault,” James said in the cease-and-desist letters to the companies.
Campbell said that she wants to work with all the attorneys general to address the needs of those sexual assault survivors who don’t want to use “traditional systems” of reporting sexual assault out of shame, fear, embarrassment, and stigma.
Campbell, who said she is a sexual assault survivor herself, is not going to stop “any of the work we’re doing.”
“I believe it should be a right to survivors to take evidence after they’ve been sexually assaulted,” she said.
While Campbell’s commercial rape kit is still in the making, New Jersey–based company Preserve Group started selling the Preservekit on Amazon for $29.95 last month.
The Preservekit, which includes swabs and evidence bags, says it is intended for survivors “to collect evidence in the immediate aftermath of the crime if going to the police or hospital is not an option and to use at a later date within the judicial system.”
Jane Mason, the 59-year-old founder of the Preserve Group and a former FBI agent, told BuzzFeed News that while she hasn’t received the cease-and-desist letter from James, she will “stand up for the 77%” of sexual assault survivors who do not report their assault.
Mason, who said she has several years of experience in evidence collection, cited the example of Congress accepting the results of the DNA analysis on Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress which “hung in her closet for years” before it was tested by authorities.
“So we’re now saying, do you have to be a White House intern with the DNA of the president of the United States of America on your dress that’s hanging in your closet before a victim will be believed?” Mason said.
Mason responded to criticism that evidence collected by DIY kits would not be admissible in a court of law, saying, “There can be no blanket statement that none of the evidence in the Preservekit will be admissible because there can be no blanket statement about evidence.”
While Mason could not provide the number of Preservekits sold on Amazon, she said her sales have been impacted by the backlash to DIY kits. Amazon did not return a request for comment.
Mason said she is open to talking with the attorneys general to see if there’s “something we need to change.”