DIY rape kit startup’s 23-year-old founder says she is a sexual assault survivor
"All I wanted to do was give survivors time to process their trauma."
Brooklyn-based health care startup MeToo Kit has come under fire in the past week for marketing a do-it-yourself rape kit designed to allow victims of sexual assault to collect DNA evidence in the privacy of their own home.
Despite not yet being available for purchase, the kit has sparked criticism from media outlets and elected officials as far away as Michigan. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel sent a cease-and-desist letter to the startup’s headquarters and, in a statement released last Thursday, accused MeToo Kit’s founders of “shamelessly trying to take financial advantage of the ‘MeToo’ movement” and marketing a product that “appears destined to delay sexual assault victims from seeking prompt medical attention.”
Representatives from the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the New York Office of Victims Services and Rhode Island-based sexual assault prevention agency Day One have also blasted the startup.
“It seems implausible that a company would look to profit from a sexual assault, while also risking the loss of justice for victims, but that is exactly what MeToo Kit Company is doing,” a spokesperson for Day One said in a statement.
But MeToo Kit’s 23-year-old co-founder and CEO Madison Campbell says her motive for starting MeToo Kit was to help other survivors, not to take advantage of them. Campbell herself was a victim of sexual assault in college, she told the Brooklyn Eagle on Wednesday.
“I know how terrifying and traumatic being sexually assaulted is,” she said. “And I didn’t even want to touch myself after it happened, or go to anyone, or tell anyone about this. All I wanted to do was give survivors time to process their trauma. Even if it’s 24 hours or 72 hours, if you just give somebody time to process that traumatic event, they might be able to then go and file a police report, but by then the DNA can be completely degraded,” she said.
Only about 23 percent of rapes are reported to police, according to anti-sexual violence organization RAINN.
The MeToo Kit is a self-administered test that a victim can use to preserve DNA evidence themselves. The kit includes a container for saliva, swabs for the cheeks and genital area and a bag for clothing. Once the user collects the evidence, MeToo Kit’s website instructs them to take the kit to the police or to their campus’s Title IX office, if they are a student.
Since Nessel released her statement last week, Campbell says she’s been receiving non-stop inquiries from reporters.
Campbell became the target of harassment on Twitter. A screenshot shared with the Eagle shows one user tweeted that they hope MeToo Kit’s founders get “hit by a f-cking bus.”
Campbell says she recognizes that the product is not yet ready for market, and that she’s working with co-founder Liesel Vaidya, 24, to ensure evidence collected with MeToo Kit will be admissible in court. She says they’re developing tamper-proof packaging, a barcode system that would time the test and working on an “invite a witness” feature to allow users to take the test with a friend, who could then write an affidavit.
“We haven’t sold anything so far because so many problems could occur and we want to make sure we’re doing our best to solve those,” Campbell said.
Nessel raised other issues in her statement, including the psychological and medical services, such as STD testing and pregnancy prevention, that a victim would receive at an in-person exam and not from an at-home kit. Campbell says she hopes to incorporate telehealth technology into the accompanying mobile app that could connect users with prescriptions or counseling.
Despite initial communications between MeToo Kit and Nessel’s office, the Michigan AG remains unamenable to the idea of a self-administered rape kit.
“While the MeToo Kits may be a well-intentioned way to commercialize and potentially profit from sexual assault, we continue to be deeply concerned about the very serious inadequacies and likely inadmissibility of the kits,” a spokesperson for Nessel told the Eagle in an email.
Still, Campbell hopes legal experts will work with her going forward to improve the kit and help it stand up in court. She’s optimistic that the outrage and negative publicity MeToo Kit has received in the past week could bring elected officials to the table sooner.
“I mean, we’re a two-female team. I’m 23 years old. Imagine how long it would have taken me to get into any AG office to have a conversation about this. I think I might have expedited it a bit,” she said.
Follow reporter Alex Williamson on Twitter.
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