OKLAHOMA CITY - The attorney general is warning the makers of a new product, at-home rape kits, not to sell them in Oklahoma or else, but the products' designers argue the kits address a major and largely ignored issue.
"It's something that has potential to re-victimize survivors of the despicable crime of sexual assault," Attorney General Mike Hunter said.
At-home rape kits have only been on the market for about a month. The Preserve Group began selling the "Preserve Kit" a month ago. The MeToo Kit Company is still designing its version of the product, but a website is already up and running.
The kits have the tools and instructions to collect physical evidence of a sexual assault.
Hunter and other members of the state's Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Task Force condemned the products in a joint press conference Thursday. Hunter said he has issued a cease and desist letter to the two companies, demanding assurances they won't sell the product in Oklahoma.
The reason? He said they are breaking state consumer protection laws by misleading buyers, and that claims reluctant victims can collect the evidence themselves to be used later in court are false.
"These products are not admissible in court," Hunter said.
Hunter and the task-force members emphasized that rape evidence must be collected by a specially trained nurse using specific tools and adhere to a chain of custody to maintain its integrity for use in court.
But Jane Mason, the co-founder of The Preserve Group, says the kits are still valuable.
"I think it`s very irresponsible for any public official to say that one huge group of evidence is inadmissible in a court of law," she said.
Mason said she was an FBI special agent for 28 years and is now a private investigator who helps victims of sexual assault navigate the legal system.
"When they came forward if it was later, or after the fact, they didn`t have their evidence to corroborate the crime," she said.
Madison Campbell is a co-founder for MeToo Kit, and she said she's bringing the product to the market with another perspective, one of a victim who was assaulted while she was in college.
"What about all the people such as myself who were too ashamed, too afraid to talk to law enforcement, and too traumatized to even have somebody touch me after I had been sexually assaulted?" Campbell said.
Mason said 77-percent of assault victims don't come forward to get SANE tests, and Campbell said that number soars to above 90-percent for victims on college campuses.
Hunter said he believes these kits like these ones could further reduce the percentage of victims who come forward, but Campbell said she believes if a victim needs to go to a hospital, they will, and these are for all the others who won't.
That's why her company is reaching out to college campuses for a pilot program where they hope to hand out free kits, and get feedback.
Hunter's office learned about the kits after Oklahoma State University officials said they were approached. OSU officials have not confirmed whether the company reached out to them, or if they responded.
Now Hunter and the task force members are insisting that focus needs to be on encouraging victims to come forward for the medical, legal, and emotional care they said the kits don't offer.
"This kit cannot take the place of the law enforcement officer who responded to my call for help. She had to guide a terrified 17-year-old girl to help her understand what had just happened to her, and the importance of having a rape kit done to preserve that evidence," said survivor and task force member Danielle Tudor. "This new technology cannot take the place of the individual who guided me through the process of collecting the evidence of my kit. It was the first time I had ever had a pelvic exam. Lastly, it could never take the place of Laurie, the advocate who met me at the hospital. She pledged her support as I navigated unknown territory. I had no idea of the sorrow I would experience in the days ahead but she did."
Mason and Campbell said they don't want these kits to replace SANE exams or reporting crimes, which they both encourage. They said these kits simply acknowledge the needs of the majority of victims that don't or can't get the exam.
However, Hunter said if they don't comply, he will take further legal action.
Editor's note: Story updated 9/12 at 10 p.m. to clarify Jane Mason's argument.