Aug 24, 2021
As the rape kit backlog across the nation has generated national headlines, many sexual assault survivors have come to realize that they’ve been let down by the criminal justice system. In some cities like Detroit, critical DNA evidence obtained through thousands of rape kits was never analyzed, but rather left in an abandoned warehouse.
Survivor stories like those featured in the HBO documentary, “I Am Evidence,” have helped inspire the #EndTheBacklog movement and led to additional initiatives aimed at ending the statute of limitations on civil rape claims. But while those efforts should absolutely be applauded and supported, additional measures that might help ensure justice for survivors of sexual assault should also be welcomed.
While researching our recent blog on the importance of having a rape kit completed after a sexual assault (whether for immediate purposes or to give survivors legal options in the future), we came across a private company that has developed an at-home “sexual assault DNA collection kit” that could be a game changer – both in terms of helping to end the backlog and provide survivors with a new evidence gathering option.
That company, Leda Health, offers Early-Evidence Kits for DNA collection after a sexual assault. We spoke with Madison Campbell, the Founder of Leda Health, about her background, what inspired her to create a company that addresses critical but often overlooked needs of survivors, and what products/services are offered.
“Leda Health is a company offering services made by survivors for survivors, and as a sexual assault survivor, myself, who was impacted as a junior in college, looking back on the experience has really changed my perspective in terms of believing more systems should be in place. During that time, I did not choose to report, nor go through criminal or civil proceedings of any kind. I immediately showered after the assault happened, and was really too scared to go and do anything about it. And honestly, I didn’t think anybody was going to take me seriously,” Campbell said.
“Years after the assault occurred, I decided to really come to terms with what happened to me and even though I was unable to seek justice in the general sense of the word – whether that be through either Title IX civil or criminal proceedings – I decided that one of the things I wish I would have done was collected or kept some form of evidence to corroborate my claim. I wish I would have had evidence so that if I ever wanted to move forward – in three, four months or even years later, which is kind of how I felt in the days after the attack – that evidence would have meant that I had something I could have given lawyers to say ‘this is what happened to me.’ But more than that, do I have choices, do I have any options for obtaining justice?”
Campbell says that after undergoing such a traumatic time, when you reach the point of actually processing everything that has happened to you as a survivor, “you really wish that there was some option of preserving that evidence that could have been used in a trial moving forward. And so that’s kind of how we started our company.”
“It was not even part of my process. You know, you think about what you’re taught as a young person, I grew up outside of Pittsburgh, and in sex-ed hardly any options are ever even offered to you as a student – even though it’s a one in four chance for women being sexually assaulted in college. None of that is taught to you in terms of here are your options, here’s how you go to a hospital for an exam, here’s how you collect evidence, none of that was ever taught to me even on a basic level,” Campbell told DLG.
“So it was incredibly foreign, and the only thing I really knew how to do was call 911. And in doing so I found out that my nearest hospital where I could undergo a rape kit was a lot of miles away. And at the time, as a college student, I didn’t have a car, and I would have had to take a bus. And the embarrassment of knowing that I would have had to take a bus to a hospital that was miles away to see a sexual assault examiner just to go through this four to eight hour procedure with all these unknowns, I really didn’t know what was ahead of me and so I gave up. And sadly, I think the system is partly designed for that result – for women to just throw up their hands and say it’s too much to bear after being sexually assaulted. It really highlights how having something like an at-home kit can be so invaluable in terms of convenience, privacy, and ultimately empowerment for the survivor if they ever decide to pursue justice,” Campbell said.
As Dordulian Law Group’s (DLG) partner organization, RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), has confirmed, underreporting among college-age women is overwhelmingly common. In fact, only 20% of female college-age students report sexual assault, while just 32% of non-students in that age category ever report. Overall, only 310 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are ever reported to the police (meaning more than two out of every three will actually go unreported).
As Campbell told us, Leda Health’s at-home DNA collection kit was designed to help increase access to healing and reporting on the part of survivors. As she points out, many young women, particularly those from communities of color, may be hesitant to report a sexual assault incident to law enforcement or undergo an exam through a kit delivered by a uniformed officer (which, as we’ll discuss in more detail below, was occurring in some parts of the country during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when sexual assault calls were deemed non-essential cases).
“Instead of using the police, because many young women – specifically minorities, whether it’s indigenous folks of folks of color – do not feel comfortable with having a uniformed official come up to their front door and drop off a rape kit, we’re utilizing a delivery service,” Campbell told DLG.
“We’re actually using DoorDash’s infrastructure to deliver at home sexual assault evidence gathering kits in under two hours to the survivor’s front door. You’ll be able to then pick it up from your doorstep – it’ll kind of look like food delivery, so it will be very discreet – and you can then take it inside and collect evidence time-sensitively in your home, dorm, or wherever you feel safe,” says Campbell.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020, hospitals deemed sexual assault examinations non-essential services. With sex crime reports suddenly considered non-essential, where were survivors to turn in the event of a rape or other sexual assault matter?
As it turned out, a program initiated in Monterey County, California, supported Campbell’s vision for Leda Health’s at-home DNA collection kit services.
Once sexual assault exams were deemed non-essential, the Monterey County D.A.’s Office stepped in and allowed survivors to perform their own rape kits at home.
“We are taking into consideration the fact that a lot of victims were worried about coming forward, and making a report and we didn’t want to discourage victims from reporting a crime or going to law enforcement, seeking help or seeking treatment because of fears of going to the hospital,” Monterey County Deputy District Attorney, Lana Nassoura, told local KSBW Action News last year.
Initiated through a sexual assault case on April 5, 2020, the at-home DNA rape testing service provided in Monterey County was referred to as a “temporary protocol.”
In terms of the process, Nassoura described the steps last year to KSBW as follows:
Nassoura confirmed the video calls would be done on a secure server which could “not be hacked into.”
“Our priority was to make sure that the victim has access to all the same resources that they would in person,” Nassoura said. “We don’t want people to be discouraged because of fears of getting the virus.”
The Monterey County at-home rape kit initiative serves as an indication of how sexual assault care can evolve to meet the needs of more survivors. Furthermore, it could be viewed as a credible example for why Leda’s Early-Evidence Kits should be supported. And after starting development of Leda’s DNA collection kits over two years ago, Campbell has received such support from some high-profile venture capitalists.
With Leda Health’s at-home DNA collection kit, Campbell says it’s all part of a mission to empower survivors who may not want to seek traditional care to find pathways to healing.
“Those are the survivors we’re trying to empower- because we know that less than 20% of sexual assault survivors actually go to the hospital or receive medical care, and so our thought process was that we can reach primarily young women where they’re at – whether in their dorms, in their first apartments after college, etc. – safe spaces, essentially, where they already are and we can actually provide resources that hopefully will be beneficial,” Campbell told DLG.
Currently, Leda’s kits are available to residents of California, Florida, and Texas (with the initial launch occurring just last week). In order to be eligible for a kit, a survivor must be at least 18 years old and the sexual assault must have occurred within five days (120 hours) of having the kit administered. From there, the next steps include:
As Campbell described to us during the interview, the Leda at-home kit offers the same level of security available in those kits used last year throughout Monterey County by utilizing the same chain of custody procedures (including a mobile platform with timestamps and tamper-proof teeth).
Additionally, if survivors who are self-administrating kits have any questions, Leda Health offers care team members with forensic evidence gathering experience, including sexual assault nurse examiners, serologists, and various other professionals who can serve as witnesses should a case proceed to either a criminal or civil complaint.
Additionally, with an Early-Evidence Kit, Leda Health offers survivors the option to receive Plan B (sent directly to the individual’s home) as well as STI testing (again sent directly to the individual’s home) two to three weeks after the assault to allow for an incubation period as recommended. And those are just a few of the support steps the company has been offering to survivors of sexual assault.
As Campbell told us, for over a year, Leda Health has been helping provide sexual assault survivors with various mental health services, including holistic healing circles, music therapy programs, and more. “Any type of therapy we could think, we do really try to offer a kind of a holistic solution to survivors that will work according to their unique needs,” Campbell told DLG.
Campbell notes that the average turnaround time for an at-home DNA collection kit to be processed is four weeks.
Once a client sends their kit to the Florida lab to be processed, they’ll be able to receive a PDF of the results. From there, the survivor has a number of options, including whether or not to produce the results as evidence in a legal proceeding.
But as Campbell told DLG, while the initial public assumption may be that survivors will utilize the Leda at-home DNA collection kits in criminal trials, she sees the civil courts as an avenue offering perhaps the greatest potential for justice.
“To say that we’re marketing it mainly for criminal [litigation], I think that’s completely wrong. We know a good majority of survivors actually don’t want to interact with the police… they don’t believe that the criminal justice system – which has a less than 1% incarceration rate – can actually provide justice,” Campbell said.
Moreover, Campbell points to the opportunity for educating sexual assault survivors on the potential for obtaining justice through the civil court system, which is not as widely known and perhaps often overlooked as an option.
“Survivors can go to civil lawyers and say, ‘Hey, I have this evidence’ and then hopefully proceed in a different and maybe more meaningful way. Especially when, and it comes down to it in a lot of cases, these survivors have gone through financial hardship, incredible financial hardship where oftentimes they have to move, they will have to take their child out of school, there will be serious effects like PTSD, and the resulting cost of therapy for all these different things – it costs an incredible amount of money in so many cases. And so I think what a lot of survivors are really looking for is to replace the amount of financial hardship they went under. And frankly speaking, a criminal proceeding really doesn’t do anything to relieve that financial burden,” Campbell told DLG.
Additionally, Campbell touched on the importance of educating sexual assault survivors on differences between criminal and civil proceedings (and understanding that they are two completely separate options) – and the difference between healing and justice. According to Campbell, it all comes down to options.
“I think the thought of a criminal trial can be so discouraging because of those low conviction rates, but it’s so important for survivors to know that the options in the civil courts are just so much better. It’s unfortunate, but a lot of people don’t know about civil court, they don’t have an understanding that they can even go that way. And I think in a lot of cases, survivors are also worried from a financial perspective, not realizing that a lot of lawyers will take cases on a contingency agreement, and under the mistaken belief that they’ll have to put up $50,000 to $100,000 in order to afford a lawyer that’s actually going to be able to help them.”
And while the Leda at-home DNA collection kit is currently available on select college campuses in California, Florida, and Texas, Campbell says the company plans to expand access throughout the nation in the near future.
As Campbell told DLG, the at-home DNA collection kits are actually available for free to sexual assault survivors through various avenues which the company has identified as in need of such services.
“We’re selling directly to universities, to employers, to the military. That way, anybody within those communities can receive all the services for free, without having to pay anything out-of-pocket,” Campbell told DLG.
The at-home DNA collection kits are currently available through Leda’s website, where the homepage declares:
We’re here to help you heal after sexual assault … Services made for and by survivors, delivered to you when you need them.
While we can’t say for certain whether or not an at-home DNA collection kit will ultimately lead to justice, options which encourage sexual assault survivors to come forward and report crimes – particularly those who may be unable to call the police or go to the hospital for evidence collection – should be welcomed. We hope at-home rape kits will have a truly positive impact in helping empower survivors to come forward and pursue justice.
Dordulian Law Group (DLG) was founded by a former sex crimes prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County who helped obtain life sentences against some of our community’s most dangerous sexual predators. Today, Sam Dordulian leads DLG’s unique Sex Crimes Division, which he established to offer a different type of legal representation that also includes a four-tiered support network for survivors.
With DLG, survivors have 24/7 access to a group of dedicated professionals known as the SAJE Team (Sexual Assault Justice Experts). The SAJE Team is designed to offer additional resources and support for survivors – beyond the very best expert legal representation available – while navigating the civil justice system.
Ready to file a claim and pursue justice through a financial damages award? Our expert attorneys are available online or by phone now.
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At DLG, we believe survivors, and we devote every ounce of energy we have into ensuring they obtain justice through civil lawsuits in pursuit of maximum financial compensation. With a 98% success record and more than $100,000,000 successfully recovered in settlements and verdicts for clients like you, DLG is the absolute best choice available when searching for a California sexual assault attorney.
Contact us today online or by phone at 818-322-4056 to learn more about why the SAJE Team is such an important part of DLG being California’s leading sex crimes law firm – with unique resources and advantages that can’t be found elsewhere. Our consultations are always free and without any obligation, and with our No Win/No Fee contingency agreement, sexual assault survivors never have to worry about paying any upfront costs or out-of-pocket expenses.
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