Police & Courts

Officials warn of at-home sexual assault evidence kits

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Sep. 9, 2019 12:01 am

QUINCY – Megan Duesterhaus-AuBuchon didn't waste any time to contact area colleges letting them know that a self-administered or at-home sexual assault evidence kit was a terrible idea.

The executive director at Quanada, the rape crisis center for Adams, Brown, Pike and Schuyler counties, said she received an email Aug. 28 from the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault informing her and other rape crisis centers that a company was marketing the MeToo Kit to colleges in Illinois, and she immediately reached out to her contacts.

Duesterhaus-AuBuchon said the MeToo Kit would create a nightmare when it comes to sexual assault prosecution over chain of custody issues.

"From the time that kit is open to the time that it is handed off to law enforcement, they have to be in physical possession of it," Duesterhaus-AuBuchon said. "When a nurse is doing a forensic kit, that patient is their only patient. If they have to leave, they have to take the kit and walk around it because they have to be able to sign for law enforcement that the kit never left their physical custody."

She noted that the MeToo Kit makes it seem that it is a rather simple process, but an evidence collection kit is much complex.

"They contain these special paper sheets that the nurse will fold out and the patient stands on, removes their clothing, the clothing is folded up and bagged, labeled and sealed -- because its part of the evidence kit as well -- and then they take the paper thing they're standing on and fold it back up and put it in the kit," Duesterhaus-AuBuchon said. "Because if there's any kind of debris, like someone else's hair, all of that is potentially evidence from the crime scene."

The complexity of administering the kit is why sexual assault nurse examiners undergo training in Illinois.

Beyond chain of custody issues, there are immediate steps when someone goes to the hospital to report a sexual assault, including contacting an advocate from a rape crisis center to support victims and conducting a medical exam to check for head trauma, strangulation, bruising and bleeding that can be used for evidence and needs to medical treatment.

"There are also a whole list of things in Illinois and many other states that a survivor of sexual violence has a right to," Duesterhaus-AuBuchon said. "They have a right to be offered the Plan B, they have the right to be offered a prophylactic cocktail of drugs to prevent sexually transmitted infections, they can actually do an urinalysis testing for STIs.

The Brooklyn, New York-based company has contacted area colleges about a university pilot program for the MeToo Kit where all students would be provided the kits.

Culver-Stockon College in Canton, Mo., said it received an email on the product, but Chris Gill, director of Student Life, said the school hadn't even looked at it yet.

A Quincy University spokesperson said the school was contacted and does not plan to participate in the program.

The MeToo Kit has already been targeted by some states.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a press release that the kits were a ploy to profit from the #MeToo movement, and they would "not provide the necessary chain of custody" for prosecution. The office filed a notice calling on the company to stop marketing the kits.

The company told the Lansing State Journal that it said it looked forward to clarify the issues with Nessel. It later clarified that it wasn't trying to discourage people from reporting sexual assault to law enforcement and medical professionals, "but rather to fill a gap when people are hesitant or unwilling to go through the reporting and exam process."

Illinois also could move to order the company to stop marketing MeToo Kits

Attorney general's spokesperson Annie Thompson said the office has serious concerns about at-home or self-administered sexual assault evidence collection kits, and that the office will be looking into the matter further.

"Collecting evidence to be used in potential legal proceedings is just one part of a medical forensic examination," Thompson said. "The examination importantly centers on both the physical and emotional health and well-being of a survivor of rape or sexual assault. "

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