RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia's Attorney General Mark Herring on Monday issued a warning about a product that claims to offer survivors of sexual violence the ability to perform forensic evidence collection outside the healthcare and criminal justice systems.
The kits have been criticized by experts and professionals in sexual violence, as well as law enforcement agencies.
The main issue with the kits? The kits delay or prevent survivors from connecting with important healthcare resources and sources of support, and because they could give survivors false hope that evidence collected might be used in a criminal proceeding when such evidence could be ruled inadmissible because of a chain of custody issues.
Following the recent launch of the “MeToo Kit,” attorneys general from Michigan and North Carolina, as well as the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and numerous survivors’ advocacy organizations from around the country warned against using self-administered evidence collection kits.
“Professionals have already identified serious shortcomings in these products, including significant concerns about whether collected evidence could actually be used in a court proceeding, about survivors’ privacy, and about the way these products might discourage a survivor from connecting with the care they need. A true survivor-centered, trauma-informed response to sexual violence includes not just evidence collection, but also an examination by medical professionals, including specially trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, treatment for injuries, screenings for pregnancy or infections, and mental health resources and support that promotes healing and recovery,” Herring said.
Attorney General Herring said him and his team have, and will continue to, host training and provide support for law enforcement, prosecutors, and victim advocates across the Commonwealth on trauma-informed, survivor-centered techniques for handling sexual assault cases.
“I’m really proud of the work we’ve done in Virginia to improve the way we deal with sexual violence. We’ve nearly eliminated the rape kit backlog. We’ve required prompt testing of kits," Herring said. "We’ve provided extensive training on trauma-informed responses and how to engage survivors in a way that minimizes re-victimization and builds stronger cases. While there’s always more to be done and plenty of areas where we can still improve, these kits may create more problems than they solve.”