Back in September, the launch of the at-home sexual assault evidence collection system MeToo Kit was met with widespread disdain. As numerous commentators pointed out, the kit — which promised to “empower survivors” by enabling them to conduct their own forensic exam at home — was unlikely to be considered admissible evidence by any court, rendering it functionally useless. “The at-home rape kit start-up is a useless mess,” writer Katie Heaney declared dismissively on The Cut.
But as untenable as the solution offered by the MeToo Kit and another, similar product may have been, the problem that these kits identified is worth further consideration. Across the country, rape kits — known variously as sexual assault kits (SAKs), sexual assault forensic evidence (SAFE) kits, and sexual offense evidence collection kits (SOECKs), among other names — come in a variety of formats, with seemingly no rhyme or reason for the widespread variation. In many states, the design of kits is wildly out of date and out of step with best practices for post-sexual assault care and modern evidence collection, leading survivors to be subjected to unnecessary pain and trauma during the course of their sexual assault forensic exam.
Worse still, most states offer no way to track a kit after it has left the hospital, leaving survivors utterly in the dark during the weeks, months, or even years that their kit sits on the shelves of a police precinct awaiting processing and testing.
In the decades since rape kits were first designed, it’s become clear that collecting pulled pubic hairs from the survivor doesn’t provide enough additional data to justify the resulting pain and trauma, that collecting more than two swabs from a single area serves mainly to dilute the sample and lengthen the exam, and that creating slides and smears during the examination ups the risk of those samples being contaminated with epithelial cells, bacteria, and other debris. Updating kits to remove these, and other unnecessary steps, and finding a way to keep track of the kits at a time when Amazon Prime can keep track of the 14 million or so items it ships each day, doesn’t seem like it should be a major…