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What is a Rape Kit?

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If you have been sexually assaulted, one of the main priorities needs to be finding out who did it, ensuring there is evidence to convict them, and getting the perpetrator sentenced. This is not always easy, but there are tools that can be used to help ensure that justice is served.

A sexual assault forensic exam, commonly called a “rape kit,” is one of the tools available that can help preserve DNA evidence after a sexual assault. Today, we want to discuss what these kits are, how they are used, and why you may need to consider having one completed.

What Goes in a Rape Kit?

The rape kit itself contains the tools that qualified test administrators can give to victims of sexual assault. The kit includes:

  • Bags and paper sheets for collecting evidence
  • Documentation forms
  • Envelopes
  • Instructions
  • Comb
  • Tubes for blood and urine samples
  • Dental floss
  • Wooden sticks for fingernail scrapings
  • Swabs to collect evidence
  • Sterile water and saline

Preparing to Have a Rape Kit Completed

The length of the exam varies but can take a few hours. It is recommended that victims of sexual assault avoid activities that could damage the evidence. This includes things like:

  • Bathing or showering
  • Using the restroom
  • Combing their hair
  • Changing clothes
  • Cleaning up the area

In most cases, rape kits need to be conducted within 72 hours of the assault in order for the DNA evidence to have maximum impact on a case. However, a forensic exam can still yield useful evidence beyond that time frame.

Not every hospital or doctor’s office has someone on staff specifically trained to administer these sexual assault forensic exams. You can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673 and they will guide you to a facility with a sexual assault nurse examiner or a sexual assault forensic examiner in your area.

What Happens During a Sexual Assault Forensic Exam?

While these exams are important to ensure justice is served, you have the right to stop, pause, or skip any of the steps we are going to mention below:

  • Immediate medical needs are taken care of first. Any emergency medical care needs will be dealt with first.
  • Questions about your medical history. It is important that healthcare providers know your current medical conditions/medications, pre-existing conditions, and other pertinent health issues. This will include questions about recent consensual sexual activity.
  • Head-to-toe examination. This is the part of the exam where the qualified specialist will conduct a full examination of your body to collect evidence of the sexual assault. These trained professionals will examine all relevant areas of your body as they collect blood, urine, and swabs from the surface of your body. Any physical evidence, such as clothing fibers or hairs, will be collected and put into envelopes to be used as evidence.
  • Possible mandatory reporting requirements. In some jurisdictions, the person providing the examination may be required to report the incident if the victim is a minor. You can check the RAINN database to see if your state requires reporting.
  • Follow up care with a doctor. You will be asked to follow up with your doctor after a rape. This could be to check for STIs as well as other forms of care related to what happened to you.

What Happens After the Exam?

The evidence from a rape kit is stored for varying lengths of time and depends on what jurisdiction you are in. Please know that there are often statutes of limitation on how long a victim has to bring charges against a perpetrator.

In many cases, such as clergy sexual abuse, the victim knows the perpetrator and is nervous about coming forward. You should speak with law enforcement and an injury attorney to ensure justice is served.