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Day 4 of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence

AWC Berlin is participating in 2020’s “16 Days” campaign by posting a new story on gender-based violence for each of the initiative’s sixteen days in order to inform and inspire action. Follow the series on our blog and social media and let us know what actions you’re taking.

When No One Believes You: A Rape Kit Redesigned for Survivors

by Antya Waegemann, AWC Berlin Family Member

Sexual assault is a global epidemic that disproportionately affects women and minorities. In the United States, someone is sexually assaulted every 73 seconds, in South Africa someone is sexually assaulted every 26 seconds, and in the US less than 1% of reported assault cases end in any conviction. After hearing about these rates and about the massive backlog of over 400,000 untested sexual assault evidence kits (rape kits) in the US, I considered that low conviction rates and high numbers of untested kits must be a design problem. As part of my master’s thesis at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York, I began to investigate the problems with rape kits and responses to sexual assault to find a better solution.

To better understand the problem I became a Sexual Assault Advocate at the New York Presbyterian Hospital, taking shifts at night and on weekends to help sexual assault survivors navigate the system. I learned the problem was far worse than I initially thought. For survivors, the current kits are extremely inaccessible: They’re mostly collected in emergency rooms (a place many sexual assault survivors fear to go), they can take 2–10 hours to complete, and typically, survivors are left out of the process and can’t even track their kits to see if they’ve been tested. For healthcare providers, the kits are designed to be collected by Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE), who are trained in how to collect evidence with a trauma-focused approach. However, in the US fewer than 20% of hospitals have SANE programs, which means that the majority of kits are collected by emergency room care providers, many of whom have never even seen a kit before and find the process with the current kit extremely confusing and overwhelming.

In 2020, I founded Margo to offer a redesigned integrated rape kit, app, and service to improve the experience of collecting evidence for both the healthcare provider and the survivor. Margo redesigned the kit’s instructions and layout to make it easier for providers to use, and it has easy scanning and tracking to ensure clear transitions between nurses and police, as well as a strong chain of custody. The app allows survivors to find the closest hospital with a SANE program and kit, prepares them with what to expect and the various choices they will have, and then takes them through a step-by-step video of the evidence collection process, which they can follow along with during the exam.

The name Margo honors Marty Goddard, who devoted her life to helping sexual assault survivors and who pioneered the very first evidence collecting rape kit. She is remembered and honored through this kit for the incredible strides she made for sexual assault survivors. In 2020, Margo (formerly RNA) won Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas Award and has received positive press coverage.

Call to Action
  • Share this post on your social media.
  • Read more about Margo and subscribe to their list or donate to help them get started.
  • Learn more about the rape kit backlog and how to end it.
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