Politics

Oklahoma AG warns public about 'at-home rape kit' companies

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter is sending cease-and-desist letters to two companies that are marketing do-it-yourself sexual assault kits victims can use to gather evidence at home.

Flanked by a rape survivor and a Tulsa sexual assault detective, Hunter issued a consumer warning on Thursday and urged Oklahomans not to use the products, saying they have "no value whatsoever."

New Jersey-based The Preserve Group, LLC, and New York's MeToo Kits Company both promote their at-home evidence kits toward victims of sexual assault who don't immediately report the incident to law enforcement.

Hunter said he fears the at-home products could discourage victims from coming forward and that evidence gathered at home would be inadmissible in court.

Telephone and email messages to the two companies on Friday seeking comment weren't immediately returned.

From Attorney General Mike Hunter's Office:

Attorney General Mike Hunter today issued a consumer alert and sent cease and desist letters to The Preserve Group, LLC. and the MeToo Kits Company to inform the companies they are in violation of Oklahoma's consumer protection laws for using misleading statements when attempting to market sexual assault evidence kits for at-home use in the state.

A sexual assault evidence kit, also known as a rape kit, is a forensic exam used to collect evidence from a victim of sexual assault.

The attorney general was joined by members of the state's Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Task Force, law enforcement personnel, sexual assault victim advocates and a victim of sexual assault, who all agreed the at-home kits stand to do more harm than good.

Attorney General Hunter said the products are misleading and break the state's consumer protection laws.

"These products have potential to re-victimize survivors of a despicable crime," Attorney General Hunter said. "These products are not admissible in court, break the chain of custody for evidence collection in sexual assault cases and mislead consumers as to the products' usefulness, among many other faults with these at-home kits. While it is my hope that the intention behind these products is to assist, and not profit off of sexual assault survivors, I am deeply concerned about the way in which these kits are being promoted. 

"We must empower and encourage victims to come forward, seek justice and hold those who commit this despicable act accountable. If someone is a victim of sexual assault he or she should seek professional medical attention immediately and report the crime."

In the letters, the attorney general points out that Oklahoma law provides victims of sexual assault medical examinations at no cost. Additionally, during an exam, healthcare professionals administer treatment of sustained injuries, prescribe medications, including those to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, assess emotional safety and well-being and provide recommendations for follow-up medical care.

At the time of the medical evaluation, victims are also provided with information about additional resources, possible financial assistance, counseling, law enforcement prosecution and protection.

The Attorney General's Office became aware of the at-home kits earlier this week, when officials were notified that the MeToo Kit Company made efforts to directly market its product to Oklahoma State University.

Both companies have 10 days to provide the Attorney General's Office with assurances of voluntary compliance. The assurances must include, at minimum, an agreement that neither company will sell its products in Oklahoma.

Read the letters, click here: http://www.oag.ok.gov/Websites/oag/images/Letter-9-12-19.pdf

Oklahoma Rape Kit Reform

Over the last two years, the state's Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Task Force has met to address the backlog of untested rape kits after its initial audit found over 7,000 untested rape kits were in law enforcement evidence rooms. 
In response, the task force developed and approved a priority list for which untested kits would be submitted for testing. The Attorney General's Office is currently working with law enforcement and prosecutors to evaluate the untested kits and determine their priority listing.

To ensure the backlog will never happen again, the task force proposed three pieces of legislation that all eventually passed and were signed into law.

The legislation included:

  • The use of one standardized kit;
  • A requirement for law enforcement agencies to submit kits for testing within 20 days;
  • A mandate to keep all kits for at least 50 years or the length of the statute of limitations, whichever is longer;
  • Requirements for all medical providers, law enforcement agencies, forensic labs and other agencies that have custody of sexual assault evidence collection kits participate in a statewide electronic tracking system being implemented by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation; and
  • Additional training for law enforcement related to sexual assault response and evidence collection.

The task force continues to meet regularly to ensure the successful implementation of all initiatives

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