Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is moving forward with her fight against at-home rape kits.
An Ingham County judge in September approved Nessel’s subpoena for the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Me Too Kits Co. The company is now required to send documents cataloging its involvement in Michigan and the credibility of the product.
Nessel said the Me Too Kits Co. is “shamelessly trying to take financial advantage of the ‘Me Too’ movement” with a do-it-yourself evidence kit that will never stand up in court.
Many sexual assault victim advocates also argue they’re unnecessary. In the state of Michigan, rape kits and medical forensic examinations are free up to five days after an assault. They can always be anonymous for adults and no police report has to be filed.
In early December, New York Attorney General Letitia James is set to take the testimony of company founder Madison Campbell and her associate, Liesel Vaidya, along with an attorney from the Michigan attorney general’s office in New York.
Me Too Kits Co. did not return a request for comment.
Me Too Kits Co. isn’t the only at-home kit on the market and under fire. PRESERVEkit was selling kits on Amazon until September.
Nessel spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney said the investigation into MeToo Co. is ongoing and the company has provided the office with thousands of pages of material in response to the subpoena. The office is in the process of reviewing the provided materials.
Nessel’s concerns with the company’s business practices include:
- Misrepresentation of the service’s sponsorship, approval, characteristics, ingredients, uses, benefits or quantities.
- Confusing or misleading legal rights, obligations or remedies for a consumer.
- Omission of material fact, which tends to mislead or deceive the consumer.
- Failing to reveal facts that are material to the transaction in light of representation of fact in a positive manner.
Nessel’s subpoena request contains many claims and statements the website has since removed, including saying the kits provide security safeguards and implement controls that protect a person’s personal information.
The company said on its website that it had spoken to many district attorneys, criminal defense lawyers and civil lawyers and is confident that the kit would be admissible in court.
Under the frequently asked questions section on the site that has since been removed the company wrote, “Do I buy this before or after I’ve been sexually assaulted[?]” The company answers the question by saying it trusts that people will buy these kits preemptively for loved ones as “a symbol of protection.”
“You do not buy a fire alarm for the 364 days you do not have a fire, you buy it for the one day you do. We trust this to be a deterrent for sexual assault,” the site read.
The Michigan AG’s office found out about the kits from career prosecutors for the AG’s office being alerted by a Title IX coordinator. Some of these kits are being marketed for schools to purchase and can cost $30 to $50.
Rebecca Veidlinger, an attorney hired by universities to perform Title IX investigations was made aware of the at-home kits by a Title IX coordinator who said a company was advertising at home kits to them to use at a school.
Having at-home kits sold to schools and businesses in Michigan was one of the major concerns of the Michigan attorney general’s office mentioned in the subpoena.
Veildlinger told the Advance she isn’t sure what the value of the kits could be, since she seriously doubts a kit that isn’t performed by a medical professional that maintains a strict chain of command to law enforcement could stand up in court.
The Me Too Kits tagline is “Swab. Spit. Seal.” and is meant to contain swabs for DNA, a container to spit into and packaging to put clothing in. However, Veidlinger said it’s not clear how the company intends to test kits, since that’s how forensic evidence in a criminal case is created.
“It’s not the swab that’s the evidence; it gets sent to a lab to be tested. What lab is she going to send it to?” Veidlinger said. “A DNA result would be completely attacked on chain of custody to the point I would wonder if a judge would actually even let it in for consideration. With so many questions about authenticity and reliability due to chain of custody issues, I don’t know if it would even come in to be considered in the first place.”
The MeToo Kits homepage currently cites that 77% of individuals do not report their sexual assault, according to the Bureau of Justice. Reasons on the homepage include shame, fear of not being believed and lack of trust in the criminal justice system.
Reporting an assault can be a traumatic experience and everyone must make choices for themselves, Veidlinger said. But she said do-it-yourself rape kits are not a viable option to best seek out justice.
“Of course we want individuals who’ve been harmed to make choices that fit with their values and their needs at the time. If they prioritize, ‘I want to prosecute this person,’ then I think quick evidence collection is a great thing to do. The strongest cases I typically have are when evidence is collected closer to the incident rather than further away,” Veidlinger said.
“That’s the problem, when they present it as an alternative to the system that is set up, they are misleading people into thinking that it is a viable alternative.”