Health care company sues WA over ban on at-home sexual assault evidence kits

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A company that produces over-the-counter sexual assault evidence kits is suing to overturn a Washington law that prohibits the sale or advertising of products like theirs.

Pennsylvania-based Leda Health, formerly known as MeToo Kits, and its founder, Madison Campbell, argue in their lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, that the state’s ban targets sexual assault survivors and violates First Amendment rights on speech and advertising.

Leda, which also offers other services for survivors, like emergency contraception and tests for sexually-transmitted infections, is fighting similar legal battles with other states over its kits.

“Our system too often forces victims to endure an intrusive physical examination in an unfamiliar place that can retraumatize them,” said Campbell, herself a survivor of sexual assault. “Leda seeks to meet survivors where they are.”

Proponents of Washington’s law, passed in 2023 as House Bill 1564, said over-the-counter kits aren’t sufficient compared to forensic sexual assault examinations by trained medical staff.

The company says the ban “disregards the admissibility of self-collected evidence, which has been historically recognized in the court of Washington and other jurisdictions.” As of 2023, the kits have not been used as admissible evidence in court, the state attorney general’s office said.

The law doesn’t ban what’s sold in the kit, which includes ballpoint pens, plastic bags and other everyday items that can be used to collect evidence. Instead, the law bans describing those items as a sexual assault evidence collection kit.

That’s an important distinction to the company, whose lawsuit says the state of Washington is “upset about what Leda Health tells survivors they can do with perfectly legal items.”

HB 1564, sponsored by Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, sailed through the House and Senate with bipartisan support.

Other states have also pushed back on the at-home kits.

Pennsylvania’s attorney general countersued Leda Health this month after the company sued New York and Pennsylvania over cease-and-desist letters sent by the two states. Maryland has a similar ban to Washington’s that passed in May.

Prosecutors who supported the legislation said at-home kits steer victims away from the support and resources they could get by going through a usual sexual assault nurse examination, and Mosbrucker has said the do-it-yourself kits give victims “false hope.”

“There’s not one sexual assault prosecution with a do-it-yourself kit that’s gotten a rapist off the streets,” Mosbrucker said in 2023. “Why does somebody profit off a kit — that we would argue doesn’t get to prosecution — from somebody who is experiencing, again, the worst day of their lives?”

Mosbrucker told the Standard she had not read the lawsuit and cannot comment yet on it.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson, in a statement to the Standard, said his office would “vigorously defend this important state law.”

Ferguson sent a cease-and-desist order to Leda Health a year before the passage of HB 1564 that said Leda Health’s advertising included “patently false” claims, including marketing that may lead survivors to believe the company’s kits are comparable to free state kits. Leda Health ended sales in Washington in response and hasn’t sold in Washington since.

“Sexual assault survivors should know that they are not alone — critical services to help them seek justice are available from trained medical professionals, at no cost,” Ferguson’s statement said, referring to Washington’s free sexual assault forensic exams, or SAFE kits.

SAFE kits, unlike at-home kits, are sent to Washington State Patrol for processing and are uploaded to a federal database used to identify repeat offenders. Last year, the state cleared a backlog of over 10,000 SAFE kits.

“The problem this kit is trying to solve is real,” said Leah Griffin, a survivor and advocate, during a 2023 committee hearing on at-home kits.

“What it never occurred to me to do was reach out and bring in $10 million worth of venture capital to sell a product that limits the options for survivors to pursue justice,” she said.

Leda Health’s attorney, Alex Little, said it makes sense that survivors have different ideas about what options are best after an assault — but the company believes the kits provide survivors more choices, not fewer.

“Neither the state or Leda can promise you that any piece of evidence is going to be admissible,” Little said. “What this boils down to is the dispute about what a woman or man — a victim — in the aftermath of assault should be allowed to know about what they can and cannot do.”

by Grace Deng, Washington State Standard

Washington State Standard is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Washington State Standard maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Bill Lucia for questions: Follow Washington State Standard on Facebook and X.

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