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Pennsylvania AG sues Pittsburgh company Leda Health over its at-home rape kits

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Kim Lyons, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
June 18, 2024

Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against Pittsburgh-based Leda Health Corp. over the “early evidence” kits the company markets to sexual assault victims. The kits are intended to allow assault survivors to collect DNA evidence of their assault, rather than go to a hospital or medical facility where such procedures are typically performed.

“These kits essentially offer false promises to consumers by misleading them to think evidence collected privately at home can result in a criminal conviction — that is yet to have happened anywhere with the use of these kits,” Henry said in a news release. 

Henry’s office also issued a cease-and-desist order to the company to stop advertising, marketing and selling its kits.

Leda Health and its CEO Madison Campbell had filed a lawsuit Monday against Henry and New York Attorney General Letitia James because they “threatened to shut down a company that provides resources to sexual assault survivors because it disagrees with the company’s protected speech.” 

Leda’s suit seeks a preliminary injunction, and argues the company “never claimed that its resources are better or more effective” than those offered by the government, but rather that some survivors of sexual assault “may require more (and different) resources than what governments currently offer them.”  

James has previously sent cease-and-desist letters to Leda and another company selling at-home rape kits in New York.

Leda Health, which formerly marketed the kits as “MeToo kits,” says on its website that its “early evidence kit was designed by survivors with the help of nurses, advocates, and lawyers to enable survivors to collect and store DNA, when accessing a traditional sexual assault forensic exam is not possible or against the survivor’s wishes.”

Campbell, a former Miss Pittsburgh pageant winner, told WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh earlier this year that she started the company after she was raped as a college student, and did not want anyone to touch her after the assault to collect evidence. 

But Henry said the kits don’t meet evidence collection standards set by the Pennsylvania legislature and the state’s Sexual Assault Testing and Evidence Collection Act. On Leda’s website, Henry’s lawsuit adds, the company has a disclaimer that reads “Leda cannot guarantee that information collected using our kit will be admissible in a court of law and is not an attorney able to provide survivors with legal advice.”

Alex Little, an attorney for Leda and Campbell, told the Capital-Star Tuesday that it tells victims what is factually true, that it can’t guarantee any evidence is going to be admissible, but that victims can increase their chances by following the advice in the kit.

“The reality is a vast majority of victims of sexual assault do not get a rape kit done, and for choices that range from just fear about the procedure or just desire to maintain control over their bodily autonomy, and when they do that, they sacrifice certain things,” Little said. “And so by allowing those victims access to kits, that may allow them to collect evidence in ways they did not realize they could to give them a little more control over evidence that is collected. Leda wants to give them options.”

Little added that the matter was a First Amendment issue “because the idea that there’s one specific way that a victim should respond to sexual assault and that the state can mandate they be told how to respond to sexual assault is not what the First Amendment permits. In fact, it prohibits the state from threatening to shut down a company like they did with Leda for not adhering to the state’s preferred views about how victims should respond to sexual assault.”

The Pennsylvania Sexual Assault Testing and Evidence Collection Act requires that assault survivors “receive evidence collection relating to their assault at no cost to the survivors,” Henry’s suit notes. 

In addition, Leda’s marketing of the kits is “problematic and in violation of Pennsylvania’s consumer protection law,” Henry added, because they “mislead consumers into thinking collecting a sample on their could supplant steps taken at a medical/forensics facility that is qualified in proper evidence collection and connected to a national database for criminal offenders (CODIS).”

The Pennsylvania Coalition to Advance Respect (PCAR), formerly known as the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, supports Henry’s actions to ban Leda’s early evidence kits. 

“The use of an ‘at-home kit’ provides a sexual assault survivor with false hope and misleads them away from a pathway to safety and justice,” PCAR public policy director Gabriella Romeo said in a statement. “It’s imperative sexual assault survivors seek trained medical care at a hospital and services from their local rape crisis center. These individuals are trained to support survivors while utilizing trauma-informed proven methods of healing.”

Henry, a former district attorney, said she has seen the trauma suffered by survivors of sexual assault.

“They deserve advocates offering the whole truth in available options, including avenues for pursuing justice against their assailant,” she said. 

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.