|RICHMOND —Attorney General Mark R. Herring issued a warning about a recently launched product that purports to offer survivors of sexual violence the ability to perform forensic evidence collection outside the healthcare and criminal justice systems. These kits have been roundly criticized by professionals and experts in sexual violence, as well as law enforcement agencies, because they may delay or prevent survivors from connecting with important healthcare resources and sources of support, and because they could give survivors false hope that evidence collected might be used in a criminal proceeding, when such evidence could be ruled inadmissible 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,” Herring said. “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, trauma-informed 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 promotes healing and recovery.”
Following the recent launch of the “MeToo Kit,” attorneys general from Michigan and North Carolina, as well as the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and numerous survivors’ advocacy organizations from around the country warned against using self-administered evidence collection kits.
Since 2015, Herring has worked to eliminate Virginia’s backlog of untested rape kits, and to transform the way the Commonwealth works to prevent and respond to sexual violence. He and his team have also led efforts to invest in training and infrastructure that will ensure a more survivor-centered, trauma-informed response to sexual violence by Virginia law enforcement agencies.
“I’m really proud of the work we’ve done in Virginia to improve the way we deal with sexual violence. We’ve nearly eliminated the rape kit backlog. We’ve 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. While there’s always more to be done and plenty of areas where we can still improve, these kits may create more problems than they solve,” he said.
Grant funding secured by Herring has allowed DFS to develop a new statewide PERK Tracking System, which will be used by DFS, local agencies, hospitals, and other stakeholders as appropriate. The PERK Tracking System will allow DFS to monitor statewide compliance with the comprehensive PERK legislation.
Herring and his team have, and will continue to, host trainings and provide support for law enforcement, prosecutors, and victim advocates across Virginia on trauma-informed, survivor-centered techniques for handling sexual assault cases, overcoming the unique challenges of investigating and prosecuting sexual violence cases, and the best way to reinvestigate cold cases.