SEATTLE — Washington’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson is sounding the alarm on a company that’s marketing at-home rape kits to college students.
“I find this company so predatory and dangerous,” said Leah Griffin.
Griffin is a sexual assault survivor and advocate who fought to get laws passed to clear the state’s rape kit backlog, and she’s now fighting to stop Leda Health from offering its self-administered “early evidence kits” to survivors in the state.
The company partnered with Kappa Delta sorority at UW earlier this year.
“What they're selling is a Q-tip in a box. They're not selling a way to gather urine, or blood or any of the other evidence you need,” said Griffin.
Griffin said the at-home kits eliminate survivors' access to needed specialized healthcare.
Washington’s Attorney General sent the company a cease and desist letter which said it violates the state’s Consumer Protection Act.
“It’s very problematic the way they advertise their services,” said Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
Leda Health’s website said it’s an additive option to sexual assault kits conducted in a hospital setting and it encourages survivors to seek in-person emergency care.
“To really pray on an individual who's gone through a traumatic experience and exploit that for financial gain is pretty bad,” said Ferguson.
Ferguson said it’s misleading survivors into believing the kits have evidentiary value.
“What's critical is that evidence for a trial. If you do this at home it doesn't have the chain of custody that's required to be evidence at a trial. You have to go to a hospital and have this done by an expert,” said Ferguson.
Ferguson said sexual assault test kits performed by SANE nurses are trained to properly store evidence to avoid spoilation or contamination.
Ferguson said evidence from kits administered by a medical professional can only be submitted to the state’s crime lab by law enforcement, and since Leda’s kits are self-administered they are ineligible for testing by Washington’s crime lab and not uploaded to a DNA database.
Ferguson said self-administered tests have never been successfully introduced in Washington courts.
The company’s website said it does not guarantee admissibility and said all evidence is subject to scrutiny in court.
The AG’s letter also said the company suggests medical charges get in the way of survivors seeking help without noting sexual assault exams in Washington state are free.
“Under Washington state law that service is free in Washington state. We want survivors to come forward to go to a hospital and have this done,” said Ferguson.
“To allow this company to profit off of fear and misunderstanding would be a disservice to the work that we've done and set us back,” said Griffin.
Leda Health sent this statement regarding the AG's letter:
"As a survivor-founded organization, the wellbeing of survivors is our top priority. Our kits have been in development for over two years and we have collaborated with lawyers, advocates, medical professionals, and survivors to provide a trauma-informed additive option in the wake of sexual assault. Approximately 70% of sexual assault survivors never report to law enforcement or get medical care in the immediate aftermath of their victimization. Leda encourages survivors to seek out in-person care, but cannot make them. Each survivor makes their own choice about what actions to take and what care to seek. In addition to kits, Leda offers STI testing, emergency contraception, educational workshops, and a 24/7 care team. We are also working on providing toxicology screening."
A representative for the company went on to say, "We hope everyone can agree on a common goal of assisting all survivors, not just those who show up in an emergency room or report to law enforcement. We hope to work in partnership with Washington State to provide additional options to reach 100% of survivors, to ensure no one walks their journey to healing alone or without care."