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What is a Rape Kit?

A rape kit may also be referred to as:

  • Sexual assault evidence collection kit
  • Sexual assault forensic evidence (SAFE) kit
  • Sexual offense evidence collection (SOEC) kit
  • Physical Evidence Recovery Kit (PERK) kit

rape kit

Following a sexual assault, the victim has the option to go to the hospital to have a forensic examination by a trained professional. During a forensic medical exam, a sexual assault evidence collection kit may or may not be used. The evidence kit affords the opportunity to collect any DNA that may have been left by the suspect. The kit is filled with tools that may be used by the examiner for evidence collection during the forensic medical exam.

A Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) or forensic examiner who has received specialized training performs the exam. Trained professionals are able to maintain chain of custody to assure that the evidence can be used in court.

urine sample

The contents of the evidence collection kit vary by state and jurisdiction. They may include:

  • Instructions
  • Bags and sheets for evidence collection
  • Swabs
  • Comb
  • Envelopes
  • Blood collection devices
  • Documentation forms

The exam will most likely begin with the examiner obtaining a complete and thorough medical history from the victim. The medical forensic exam also involves a head to toe physical examination, which includes the genital area. This may also include:

  • Collection of blood, urine, hair and other body secretion samples.
  • Photo documentation.
  • Collection of the victim’s clothing, especially undergarments.
  • Collection of any possible physical evidence that may have transferred onto the victim from the rape scene.

mouth swab

Once the examination is completed and all specimens are collected, they are carefully packaged and stored to assure that they are not contaminated. They are maintained under chain of custody until further action is taken.


Background

Under the Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005 (“VAWA 2005”), starting in 2009, states must certify that they do not “require a victim of sexual assault to participate in the criminal justice system or cooperate with law enforcement in order to be provided with a forensic medical exam, reimbursement for charges incurred on account of such an exam, or both.”

Under this law, a state must ensure that victims have access to an exam free of charge or with a full reimbursement, even if the victim decides not to cooperate with law enforcement investigators. Previously, states were required to ensure access to exams free of charge, but could put conditions on the exam, such as cooperating with law enforcement officials.


What does this mean for victims?

Victims are now allowed more time to decide whether to pursue their case, a decision that can be difficult to make at the time of the attack. The expectation is that more victims will have forensic examinations, allowing trained professionals to collect vital evidence while it’s still there.

However, be aware that the storage and retention of evidence collection kits vary, and may not match the statute of limitations to report a sexual assault. Different areas have determined different time frames for the storage of a kit. The victim should be informed at the time of the exam as to the length of time the kit will be retained, as well as the disposition of the kit.



To find a facility near you that performs sexual assault forensic exams, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE.

Learn more about receiving medical attention.

Learn more about preserving & collecting forensic evidence.

Learn more about the importance of DNA in a sexual assault case.


National Sexual Assault Hotline | 1.800.656.HOPE(4673) | Free. Confidential. 24/7.

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