OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington lawmakers are proposing a bill that would ban the sale of at-home rape kits from being sold or provided to the public including college students who have been targeted by the marketing of DIY kits.
The bill is garnering bipartisan support. Lawmakers said these companies are profiting off sexual assault survivors and stopping their chance at justice.
Leah Griffin is a survivor and advocates fighting to stop self-administered rape kits from being sold in the state.
In October of 2022, Washington’s Attorney General sent a cease and desist letter to one company in question, Leda Health. The attorney general’s office said the company used to do business under a different name MeToo Kits, and said it received warnings from the Attorneys General of Michigan, New York, Oklahoma, Delaware, Hawaii, New Mexico, North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington D.C.
Griffin was worried the cease and desist would not be enough and worked on writing legislation to keep them out of the state for good.
“It’s harmful," Griffin said. "It's hurtful and trying to make a profit off someone's trauma is despicable."
Griffin brought the issue to Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, who is one of six lawmakers sponsoring the legislation.
“It's probably one of the worst bills that I've had to do, because of the harm that it does to people that I serve,” said Rep. Mosbrucker, R - Goldendale.
One of the big concerns for lawmakers is the self-administered kits are not admissible in Washington courts and are ineligible for testing in the state’s crime lab.
“Now we have this problem and this problem is that we're giving false hope to survivors, that if they do it themselves, then they are going to get prosecution, and it's heartbreaking,” Mosbrucker said.
The kits also are not able to be put into the FBI’s criminal justice database, CODIS, which creates a DNA profile of a suspect and can help find serial rapists.
“To tell people who are already traumatized on the worst day of their life, that if you just do this one thing in your dorm room, then it'll all be okay, is false hope and it's just re-traumatizing them again,” Mosbrucker said.
Leda Health said its early evidence kits contain swabs, sterile water, garment bags, and evidence tape. It said survivors can use its 24/7 care team which is often staffed by sexual assault nurse examiners to guide them through the collection process.
The company said it does not sell directly to consumers and partners with institutions like one sorority at UW. It said its kits are another option for survivors who often do not report assaults.
“What we provide with these kits is the opportunity to collect and preserve information and hopefully evidence that can be used at a later time when somebody is in a state of mind to make a decision of whether they're ready to report or want to report or can report,” said Ilana Turko, Chief Strategy Officer at Leda Health.
KING 5 asked about the concerns their product won’t hold up in court.
“There's nothing in terms of case law in terms of statutes in Washington that indicates that these kits are inadmissible," Turko said. "In fact, the case law indicates that they are admissible. It's just a matter of making sure that prosecutors and law enforcement are equipped with the legal arguments they need."
Turko said the company has been talking with lawmakers like Mosbrucker about their opposition to the bill.
“I think when we have the opportunity to speak to folks and explain what it is we do," Turko said. "It is the case that we all have the same mutual goal of helping survivors and making sure they get exactly what it is that they need in their moment of need."
Mosbrucker said it’s an issue she’s not backing down from.
“I appreciate their energy and tenacity, but this isn't something I'm gonna let go," Mosbrucker said. "This is too important.”
Mosbrucker pointed out that sexual assault kits done in a hospital are free of charge, not a product that survivors pay money to receive.
Griffin said some of the problems Leda is trying to solve are real, but at-home kits are not the solution.
“I worry about the psychological impacts of that revelation on survivors and that somebody will end up taking their own life because they think they have ruined their path to justice,” Griffin said.
There will be a public hearing on the proposed bill on Tuesday in Olympia.