DES MOINES, Iowa -- Swab, spit, seal. Sounds easy enough, right?
That’s the tagline being used by a new startup company.
“Me Too Kit aims to be a sexual assault evidence recovery kit for at-home use,” says founder and CEO Madison Campbell.
It’s a consumer, do it yourself, at home rape kit.
“So what we believe to be in the box is swabs,” says Campbell. “Those swabs would be used to collect any DNA evidence from the mouth area, from anywhere on the body. As well as a big to put the clothes you were wearing because that can have DNA evidence as well.”
Campbell says she believes in a survivor's right to self-collect evidence. The young entrepreneur says she experienced sexual assault in college.
“I didn’t want anyone to touch me or console me. I really didn’t want to answer any questions,” says Campbell. “I just wanted to shut down and be in a hole.”
Campbell says her goal is to help the 77-percent of sexual assault victims that do not report by making the process as easy and foolproof as possible.
Heather Strachan is a survivor of sexual abuse as both a child and an adult. She made an initial report after one of the incidents but wound up not pursuing charges.
“I knew that I wanted options but I will say that it was intrusive enough that I stopped halfway through,” says Strachan. “It was just kind of an overwhelming and freezing response and I finally had to say stop.”
The creator of the kit says the idea is to make survivors feel safe and secure, and give them more time to deal with what they’ve been through. Not everyone views it that way.
“To me, the idea is actually more devaluing and degrading as a survivor,” says Strachan. “It feels like I should be shut up in my home and do this myself and not seek the appropriate care. Healthcare providers that provide these kids, they go through such extensive training I know that I would destroy evidence in the process of collecting it.”
“It really just gives a sense of false hope to survivors,” says Matty Smith, Communications Specialist with the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “Also it puts the onus of evidence collection onto the victim as opposed to the hard work we do each and every day at the coalition to actually push back to shift culture. So that people don’t commit sexual abuse and assault in the first place.”
Prosecutors, like Story County Attorney Jessica Reynolds, say these kits are misleading.
“There’s no legitimate purpose for this type of DIY assault kit, that I can see,” says Reynolds. “If you would take that kit as a sexual assault victim, and swab yourself and spit into a cup, I wouldn’t be able to use that at all.”
Critics have a lot of questions and concerns.
“We need to make sure that we are doing holistic, in-person, forensically accurate examinations and we’re incorporating the medical side of things and the advocacy side of things,” says Reynolds.
Multiple attorneys general have sent the Me Too Kit founders cease and desist letters and hundreds of people are pushing back online.
“We’re literally getting death threats from people,” says Campbell.
She acknowledges there are issues, such as chain of custody, that need to be addressed but she’s not giving up.
“If the law isn’t willing to change, I’m going to fight every single day to ensure that survivors have some sort of right to collect this and have it be admissible,” vows Campbell.
Still, experts urge people to stay away.
“I would advise people not to buy the Me Too Kit,” says Reynolds. “There is absolutely no feasible alternative to a forensic exam if you want your rapist prosecuted.”
“I don’t feel like a few survivors coming together, at this point, to create something that at this time is meant to take care of the situation after the fact, can really do much,” says Strachan.
But the survivor says there are things we can all do to address the core issue.
“Educate our kids and educate each other on what consent looks like,” says Strachan. “It doesn’t have to ruin the moment, it doesn’t have to be something that you can't talk about. We have to start treating each other like whole people.”
Campbell has not said how much they plan to charge for the Me Too Kit but her goal is to make it “cheaper than an Uber ride to the hospital.”
Here in Iowa, victims never have to pay for sex abuse forensic examinations or any medications. Each rape kit costs the state around $15. According to the Attorney General’s Crime Victims Assistance Division, the state spent more than $2.1 million on sexual assault exams and medications in the fiscal year 2018.