State Attorneys General Combat At-Home Rape Testing Kits

Tulsa Police Sgt. Jillian Phippen and Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter urge the public not to purchase do-it-yourself sexual assault kits at a press conference.

Tulsa Police Sgt. Jillian Phippen and Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter urge the public not to purchase do-it-yourself sexual assault kits at a press conference. Sue Ogrocki/AP Photo

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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Connecticut governor plans to end religious vaccine exemptions … Undercover cop in St. Louis sues city … New Mexico moves to make college free for residents.

Several state attorneys general have joined together to try to stop two businesses from selling at-home rape testing kits marketed to survivors of sexual assault. One such DIY set, called the “MeToo Kit,” contains swabs, a container for a saliva sample, plastic bags, and an access card for an app to guide people through the process of collecting evidence. So far, the attorneys general of New York, Oklahoma, Michigan, Hawaii, Virginia, and North Carolina have sent the companies cease-and-desist letters asking them to stop advertising, and are discouraging the public from purchasing the kits. The attorneys question whether at-home kits will be recognized as valid by law enforcement. “This company is shamelessly trying to take financial advantage of the ‘Me Too’ movement by luring victims into thinking that an at-home-do-it-yourself sexual assault kit will stand up in court,” said Michigan attorney general Dana Nessel. They also are reminding the public that forensic exams are free in every state, and are intended to involve a process meant to support the survivor. “Trained sexual assault forensic examiners and nurses, prosecutors, victim advocates, and police agencies from across the state work diligently to ensure forensic medical exam protocols are followed, minimize victim re-traumatization, address the needs of victims, test the sex assault evidence collection kits, and hold offenders accountable by ensuring the evidence collected can be used for prosecution purposes,” said Hawai‘i attorney general Clare Connors. The co-founder of the company selling MeToo Kits, Madison Campbell, said that process can be traumatizing, and they hope to offer an alternative. “MeToo Kit’s mission is to help survivors of sexual assault who are unwilling to go to the police or the hospital to collect time-sensitive DNA evidence … many survivors find their interactions with these systems traumatic in terms of time and emotion,” Campbell said. But the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault said that the kits are minimizing the severity of rape crimes. “An assault leaves wounds that last for lifetimes, and this kit diminishes the seriousness of this crime to something trivial that can be processed alone,” the group said. [Associated Press; Maui Time; Buzzfeed]

RELIGIOUS EXEMPTIONS | Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont announced that he plans to guide the state in the footsteps of several others who have recently eliminated most exemptions to vaccines. Lamont, a Democrat, said he would allow ample time for parents to comment at public hearings during the legislative process, but stressed that vaccines are required for herd immunity against dangerous illnesses like the measles, a key component of public health. “The more children who receive their vaccinations, the safer it is for everyone, especially those who may be at risk to catch serious diseases. I want parents to know that their kids can go to school and feel safe. That we’ve done everything we can to protect the public health,” Lamont said. Connecticut is one of 31 states with reported measles cases this year. In nearby New York, which saw one of the largest outbreaks in the country this year, the state has already implemented a new law that eliminates all religious exemptions for vaccinations for minors attending any school in the state. Connecticut Department of Public Health Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell said that she expects resistance to the change in the state. “I know there are many who sincerely believe that the religious exemption should not be repealed and vaccine rates by schools should not be published. I sympathize, but I must follow the science that has been proven for more than 50 years and have saved millions of lives in our country,” she said. [Connecticut Public Radio; Wall Street Journal; Hartford Courant]

COP SUES CITY | Undercover St. Louis police detective Luther Hall has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city, the police department, and the mayor, alleging that he was beaten by colleagues who then subsequently covered up the incident. Hall was undercover at a protest when he said that officers slammed him to the ground, kicked, and beat him without cause. Three of the four officers involved pled not guilty after they were indicted last year, while one pled guilty to federal charges and admitted to lying about Hall’s arrest to the FBI and a grand jury. Hall also alleged that Mayor Lyda Krewson made a comment that officers “messed up your cute face;” representatives for Krewson said she does not remember making such a comment. Hall was one of more than 100 people arrested at the protest in 2017, and his suit is one of three filed against the police and the city this week, as the two-year statute of limitations deadline is approaching. Almost 350 individual officers have been named in a class action suit filed by protestors who claim that police used excessive force and took “extraordinary measures” to hide their names and badge numbers so that protesters could not identify them. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch; Associated Press; Riverfront Times]

FREE COLLEGE | New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced a plan to make two- and four-year public colleges in the state free for all state residents. Grisham, a Democrat, said she estimates the program would help about 55,000 students each year and cost the state between $25 and $35 million. “This program is an absolute game changer for New Mexico. In the long run, we’ll see improved economic growth, improved outcomes for New Mexican workers and families and parents,” Grisham said. The governor plans to fund the program with revenue from oil production. The plan will now have to pass through the state legislature, which is controlled by Democrats in both chambers. Higher education experts are now cautioning the state against simply making college free, suggesting that they also need to provide support for low-income students as they adjust to life in college. “If you call it free and don’t provide the supports for students once they get there, then you still don’t set them up for success,” said Wesley Whistle, a higher education researcher at the think tank New America. [New York Times; Forbes; Albuquerque Journal]

FIREFIGHTER PROMOTION | The mayor of Yonkers, New York, has faced criticism this week for promoting firefighter Richard LaPeruta to fire lieutenant, two years after he posted a racist Facebook status comparing African-Americans to apes. Mayor Mike Spano said that he wanted to fire LaPeruta after the post in 2017, but was told that the dismissal would not stand up if challenged by the state’s Public Employment Relations Board. The president of the Yonkers NAACP, Rev. Frank Coleman, disputes that assertion. "That's baloney, as far as I'm concerned. People sue all the time, and they lose. If you believe it's an immoral thing for someone to do, to compare human beings to apes, do what needs to be done. If you get sued, you get sued,” he said. Spano contends that he did the best he could. "While I detest what he did and we hit him as hard as we could hit him — legally, short of firing him—he took his medicine, he apologized and he has been an exemplary firefighter up to and past that," Spano said. But Coleman said that LaPeruta never apologized to the city’s African-American community, and his promotion now sends the wrong message. [The Journal News; Hudson Valley News]

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.

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