WHAT IS A RAPE KIT?

A rape kit is a way of collecting evidence from an assault from the clothing, belongings, or body of a survivor of assault. Sexual Assault Forensics Exams, commonly known as rape kits, help collect and preserve DNA and other evidence that may be used in court or to receive proper medical care.

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Victims do not have to report an assault in order to get a rape kit done. The exam helps to safely store evidence if one chooses to report in the future. If you are a minor, the examiner may be required by law to report the assault. You can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline or your local sexual assault service provider for more information on laws in your area.

The contents of the kit may vary depending on the state the exam is performed in. Generally, the kit includes bags, envelopes, and paper sheets to collect evidence like hair, skin, or other fibers. Materials used to collect a blood sample, and swabs are included, as well as a small comb. The purpose of all of these items is to collect and preserve as much as evidence possible from your body and clothing.

Receiving an exam also helps ensure you receive any necessary medical treatment after the assault. You may have injuries, need STI treatment, or need emergency contraception. Everything that happens during an exam is up to you, and you can stop an exam at any point. Exams are free of charge and performed by medical professionals who have been specially trained in conducting sexual assault forensics exams. Your local sexual assault service provider can help provide information on state by state laws, what to expect from an exam, and an even an advocate to accompany you to an exam.  

How to prepare for a sexual assault forensics exam

In order to extract the most evidence during an exam there are certain steps you can take. Although the urge to get clean can be extremely strong after a traumatic experience, avoiding showering and bathing can help preserve DNA and other evidence from the body for later collection.

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Changing clothes can also cause evidence to shift or get lost. Receiving the exam in the same clothing as the assault can be helpful. If you have already changed clothing, cannot get an exam right away, or simply don’t want to wear those clothes any longer, preserving them in their condition by placing the worn items in plastic bags can also be helpful. Avoiding using the restroom, brushing your hair, and cleaning any part of your body that may contain evidence is all helpful in getting the most out of the exam.

Of course, this is not always realistic. Getting clean or taking a shower might be the very first thing you want to do. Victims of assault often report feeling dirty, and wanting to shed or scrub the experience off of themselves. It is important to know that even if you shower, change clothes, use the restroom, or anything else, the exam can still be performed.

What to expect during an exam

Exams vary based on the amount of evidence that is available, what you want to be examined for, and a few other factors. Generally, exams take a couple of hours, and may include an external examination, internal examination, STI testing, and care for any injuries. The process can be long and invasive, and is entirely your choice.

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You may want to bring along someone you trust, who can help make you feel comfortable during the exam. If that isn’t possible, your local sexual assault service provider may be able to connect you with an advocate who can talk you through the exam, provide comfort and support, and may even be able to accompany you to the actual exam. If you decide to report the crime, and bring along someone other than an advocate to the exam, they may be called as a witness during trial.

You are in control of the exam, and everything that happens during. You can stop, take a break, or skip an entire part of the exam at any point if you choose to do so. First, you will be asked about your medical history. The person performing the exam needs to know of any pre-existing conditions you have and medications you are on, and will ask questions about your general health and wellbeing.

You may have to answer some very personal questions about consensual sexual activity, your sexual history, and details of the assault. This is all to help the person performing the exam know what to look for, and to connect DNA evidence to the perpetrator. Your answers can also aid in the head-to-toe examination. Any details you can give may help the examiner know where and what to look for on your clothing or body. The exam usually includes swabs of blood or fluids from the external body, and any hair or evidence on the skin or clothing. The examination may include internal examining of the mouth, vagina, or anus.

What happens when the exam is over

Regardless of whether or not you get a rape kit, the decision to report or press charges is entirely up to you. Having evidence from a rape kit makes prosecution of a perpetrator more likely; however, it is neither a necessity for a trial, nor a guaranteed prosecution. The amount of time that evidence is stored varies by state, jurisdiction, and statute of limitations. Your local sexual assault service provider will know more about laws in your area.

When rape kits are turned over to law enforcement and entered into the FBI’s CODIS system, they can help identify serial rapists, add credibility to a survivor’s account of the assault, and even exonerate the wrongfully convicted. However, in recent years it has been discovered that there is a lengthy backlog of rape kits that have gone untested. In 2016, Obama passed a bill to end the continuation of the backlog and ensure the rights of those with sexual assault forensics exams. The bill focuses on preserving the evidence collected in a rape kit, and protects survivors from having their rape kit destroyed without their prior knowledge, or from having to report to law enforcement in order to preserve evidence within a rape kit.

Again, sexual assault forensics exams can be long and invasive, and even retraumatize a survivor. But, if you choose to have a rape kit done, assuming all necessary steps are taken and the kit makes it to proper testing, the evidence collected can be helpful. 

Where can I get more information or set up an exam?

For more information you can visit your local sexual assault provider, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or even visit their online chat option.