The creators of two do-it-yourself rape test kits have stopped sales and advertising after an outpouring of concern from lawyers and victim advocates, including a Brigham Young University professor who emailed Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
Jane Mason, the co-founder of the PRESERVEkit, posted a letter Sunday on the company’s website announcing the business was halting sales.
“Because of cease and desist letters,” Mason wrote, “untruths all over the media and in press conferences, and the hostile and threatening atmosphere this has created, we regret to say we are removing most of the information from our website.”
The letter’s last sentence referenced a statistic showing 77% of sexual assault survivors do not report the crime; no source was cited. “We will be back as soon as possible because we are going to continue to help the 77%,” the letter concluded.
PRESERVEkits on Friday were listed as “currently unavailable” on Amazon.
The maker of a similar product, called the MeToo Kit, also has stopped marketing from its website, which had included a university pilot program. The company had approached BYU about using its product, a school spokeswoman said.
The kits were not yet being sold, and the site now is a single page offering a sign-up service for future updates.
Both companies envisioned at-home kits that would help sexual assault and rape victims collect evidence in private rather than going to a hospital, where trained providers gather materials and can connect victims to health care. One of the critics of that approach was Julie Valentine, an associate professor of nursing at BYU.
Valentine on Friday said she sent an email to Bezos on Sept. 10 alerting him to the PRESERVEkit and her concerns. Valentine said one of Bezos’ assistants called her the next day.
“She asked me some additional questions,” Valentine said Friday, “about the concerns regarding patients who would not receive health care. She shared some concerns as well and said she would flag the product and have an internal team review it."
Besides skepticism of whether the evidence gathered with home products would be admissible in court, Valentine worried the kits would discourage victims from seeking professional health care and advocacy.
Valentine was at the International Association of Forensic Nurses conference in New Orleans while communicating with Amazon. She said other nurses at the conference wrote to the retailer or government officials, too.
The nurses also worked to educate rape crisis line operators about the do-it-yourself kits. Valentine said she’s been told at least one operator in Utah took a call from someone inquiring about the kits. The operator worked to dissuade the caller from using them, Valentine said.
It’s unclear to the extent to which Valentine’s lobbying was a deciding factor in halting sales. She and her colleagues were not alone in their criticism.
The attorneys general in New York and Oklahoma sent cease-and-desist letters to the makers of the two kits.
Valentine is worried the do-it-yourself kits will return to the market — that either the two current manufacturers will resume or start sales or new makers will sell similar products. She said nurses and other advocates for rape victims need to continue educating campuses, rape recovery centers, law enforcement and retailers about the products.
Valentine pointed to the letter from Mason.
"It doesn't say they're not manufactured anymore,” Valentine said. “It just says they are halting sales while reviewing legal concerns."
If you need to report or discuss a sexual assault, you can call the Rape & Sexual Assault Crisis Line at 888-421-1100. The Utah Department of Health has other resources for rape survivors at https://bit.ly/2msvaoJ.