Self-Administered Rape Exams are NOT the Answer: A Guest Blog
Transitions' is pleased to have one of our colleagues and partners, Christiana Paradis of Susquehanna University, weigh in on a subject that has been gracing many headlines (and making many waves!) recently -- the announcement of a tech-startup championing "DIY rape kits." Christiana, who oversees the Department of Justice grant at Susquehanna, as well as the VIP Center for victims services on campus, spoke up about the issue -- and why 'DIY' and 'rape' should never go hand in hand.
About one month ago our University was contacted by the founder of the #MeTooKit, an organization promising to yield the “first ever sexual assault kit for at home use with immediate DNA lab processing.” At first glance, this sounds great! Something that can privately be administered so a survivor doesn’t have to go to the hospital offering more choice and privacy?! Immediate DNA lab processing so as to avoid the rape kit backlog that we’ve heard so much about across the United States?! If this all sounds too good to be true, it is.
Self-administered rape kits are not the solution to these problems and moreover they can actually cause more harm than good. First off, self-administered kits such as the #MeTooKit are incomplete. They do not contain all recommended components of a forensic rape exam, thus resulting in incomplete evidence collection. Furthermore, since this is promoted to being administered at home it means that necessary medical treatment, as well as advocacy services, and real-time connections to resources in the community are not available.
Secondly, they do not preserve the chain of custody. In order for forensic rape exams to be admissible in court they must uphold chain of custody and evidence integrity. Producing admissible evidence is impossible with self-collection and at-home storage. Self-administered kits risk damaging any collectible evidence and ultimately strip away survivor’s options to obtain a full examination and the ability to have the exam used as evidence in future criminal proceedings. Imagine using one of these kits and thinking you are taking back power and control of your life only to find out you’ve lost all evidence in the process and any means of seeking justice. That’s what these kits promote.
Self-administered kits do not provide a place for kits to be tested. These self-administered kits are not authorized to be collected and tested, which means these kits will be fed back into the same system that is currently backlogged without any ability to locate where the kit is or streamline the process.
Furthermore, these self-administered kits encourage victims to audio and video record evidence as part of the kit; however, there is no information about the privacy of how this information is stored, secured and/or made available to other individuals, which could result in the release of intimate information.
Since its release the #MeTooKit has been slammed by the Campus Advocacy Prevention and Professionals Association, the International Association of Forensic Nurses, the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, as well as several state attorney general’s offices including Michigan, New York and Hawai’i.
The current creator of the #MeTooKit continues to stand behind the development of the kit and just last week a similar kit was released for sale on Amazon (which has since been taken down thanks to the advocacy work of many sexual assault advocates). I don’t believe we’ve seen the end of these products and I have grave concerns about their use. One cannot deny that there are real barriers that prevent survivors from coming forward and those barriers will continue to exist until we see changes at institutional levels of our health care, criminal justice, and education systems. That being said, these kits are not the answer to those structural barriers.
Sexual violence exists because we have a culture that both historically and currently perpetuates it and allows it to exist. Though we have come a long way in the past 40 years in terms of the prevention of violence, we know that it is still a rampant problem in our society. We need to look at tangible ways that we can stop violence before it occurs and that includes changing our social norms around what acceptable behavior in our culture looks like. We need to look at how our sanctioning and sentencing processes not only hurt survivors who have been harmed, but also people who commit harm; ultimately setting them up to reoffend. We need to look at how we fund our local domestic and sexual violence centers, because if we’re actually serious about ending violence in our community we cannot do it with a shoe string budget and a handful of advocates.
It’s on all of us to demand change. We cannot be outraged by the number of sexual violence instances that are reported, but stand by as Congress vacillates every term on whether or not to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act and other laws that could create impactful structural changes in our society. At Susquehanna University, we remind students that It’s On Us, to #ProtectTheNest and that mentality is true on or off of our campus. As a Susquehanna Valley community, we must make our voices heard and look out for one another. We have a duty to keep our communities and our neighbors safe. Will you join our campus community and commit to #ProtectYourNest?
Program Coordinator for DOJ OVW Grant