RICHMOND, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- A warning has been issued about a recently launched product that claims to offer sexual violence survivors the ability to perform forensic evidence collection outside of the health care and criminal justice systems.
Attorney General Mark Herring issued the warning on Tuesday, saying in a release these kits have been criticized by professionals and experts in sexual violence and law enforcement agencies.
The release says such kits may delay or prevent survivors from connecting with important health care resources and sources of support.
Herring's office says the kits could give survivor false hope that evidence they collect might be used in criminal proceedings, but it would likely be ruled inadmissible in court because of chain of custody issues.
“It's really important to provide survivors of sexual violence with options and choices, but these self-administered kits could actually be harmful or counterproductive for a survivor,” said Herring. “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, trauma0informed response to sexual violence includes not just evidence collection, but also 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 promote healing and recovery.”
These kits, called “MeToo Kit,” have also led to warnings from the attorneys general of Michigan and North Carolina as well as the Manhattan District Attorney's Office and survivor advocacy organizations from across the country.
Herring says these kits may create more problems then they solve.
He is also praising progress made in analyzing Virginia's physical evidence recovery kit, or PERK, backlog.
“I'm really proud of the work we've done in Virginia to improve the way we deal with sexual violence,” Herring said. “We've nearly eliminated the rape kit backlog. We're required prompt testing of kits. 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.”
The release says work has been underway to eliminate the untested PERK backlog since 2015 and to transform the way Virginia works to prevent and respond to sexual violence.
Herring has also gotten grant funding to allow for the creation of a new statewide PERK Tracking System, which will be used by state and local agencies, hospitals, and other stakeholders as appropriate. The system will also allow for the monitoring of statewide compliance with PERK legislation.