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According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), an American is sexually assaulted every 73 seconds. This is an astounding statistic, and it should most certainly be highlighted again and again until we, as a society, band together to protect the most vulnerable among us. When a person is sexually assaulted, there are several steps they can take to ensure that justice is brought to the perpetrator of the assault. One of those steps could be undergoing a forensic examination to collect DNA evidence left behind after the assault. The process of collecting and preserving evidence after a sexual assault is often referred to as a “rape kit.”
Many medical facilities can employ trained personnel called Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs). These individuals have received education specifically to help them properly perform rape kit examinations. It is vital that the person who performs these examinations does so with the understanding that they are collecting evidence that could be used in a criminal case. Any missteps while collecting this evidence could result and the evidence being labeled as “tainted” and inadmissible in court.
The practitioners who are trained to properly perform a rape kit differ from other healthcare providers because they are clinically trained to understand the situation that they are dealing with and that the focus should be on the sexual assault survivor’s needs. SANEs are trained to provide comprehensive care that minimizes the trauma for a sexual assault survivor.
SANEs understand the specific needs of sexual assault survivors and will conduct a rape kit in a sensitive and dignified manner. Unfortunately, rape kits can seem invasive, which is exactly what a sexual assault survivor does not need. However, there is some urgency with these kits — the exam needs to be conducted as quickly as possible after an assault takes place in order to maintain the integrity of the evidence.
In addition to having training based specifically on understanding the needs of sexual assault survivors and how to help them through an exam, a SANE also understands that they may be called to testify in court.
Right now, there is no national requirement that hospitals or other healthcare facilities utilize SANEs. However, studies are beginning to show that using SANEs to conduct rape kits leads to higher-quality evidence collection, meaning there are higher prosecution and conviction rates of perpetrators.
If you or a loved one had been sexually assaulted and need to find a SANE to conduct your evidence collection kit, contact RAINN’S Sexual Assault Hotline or look up the phone number to your local Rape Crisis center for information about SANE programs near you. If you choose to go straight to the hospital after a sexual assault, ask the ER admissions personnel for a trained examiner. Even if the hospital does not have a SANE, please still consider receiving a rape kit exam by doctor or nurse who will follow the instructions in the kit. The evidence collected could help put the perpetrator of your sexual assault behind bars and prevent that person from harming anyone else.