Have You Experienced Sexual Assault Or Abuse?

What is a Rape Kit?

A rape kit, also known as a Sexual Assault Forensic Exam, is an optional medical procedure performed by trained professionals to collect evidence after someone experiences a sexual assault.

Key Takeaways

  • A rape kit, also known as a Sexual Assault Forensic Exam, is a medical procedure administered by a trained professional used to collect evidence after a sexual assault. It’s designed to preserve DNA evidence that can be used in a criminal investigation.
  • The process typically includes collecting blood and urine samples, swabbing areas for biological evidence, saving the clothing, and documenting the firsthand account from the victim. The specific process may vary state by state and a SAFE exam can only be performed by certain professionals in certain hospitals. You can not perform a SAFE exam by yourself and any self-administered at-home kits, like the ones provided by LEDA Health, may put your safety, health, and a potential criminal case in jeopardy.
  • You are not required to have a SAFE exam done if you want to seek medical attention after experiencing sexual assault. If you have any specific questions related to the process in your state, reach out to RAINN or a local sexual assault hotline for more assistance.

After a sexual assault occurs, it’s not uncommon for the victim to report the incident to a trusted friend, family member, or the local authorities.

If a victim knows or suspects that they were raped or otherwise sexually assaulted, they may choose to voluntarily undergo a medical examination at a local hospital or other health care provider. This analysis makes use of the contents of a rape kit.

Medical professionals use rape kits to gather DNA evidence from your body. Asking for a rape kit does not mean you have to report the incident to the police; instead, you can simply ask for the kit and store the information from it in case you decide to report it at a different date.

What Does a Rape Kit Consist of?

A rape kit includes a number of different items used to collect evidence of a sexual assault. Each state has established the materials that a rape kit should contain.

There may be some variation between kits depending on which state you obtain one from, but the main items included within a rape kit are:

  • Detailed instructions for the examiner to follow
  • Forms for documenting the procedure performed and any evidence found
  • Materials for blood and urine samples
  • Paper bags for collecting clothing and other evidence
  • Swabs for biological evidence collection
  • Items used to swab fingernail scrapings
  • Glass slides to store biological evidence with
  • Envelopes, boxes, and labels for each of the various stages

The nurse who performs the examination must be very careful to follow the instructions and handle each item with care. Some hospitals will have nurses on site who have had specialized training on rape kits. These nurses are known as Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners (SAFEs) or Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs).

How To Prepare for a Sexual Assault Forensic Exam

If you wish to undergo a sexual assault forensic exam, make sure that you avoid any activities that could potentially damage evidence. Don’t try to clean yourself up. Avoid actions that may remove evidence, such as:

  • Bathing
  • Showering
  • Using the bathroom
  • Changing clothes
  • Combing your hair
Last Date Modified
March 19, 2024
Content Reviewed By:

Kathryn Kosmides
Managing Director | Helping Survivors

While it’s natural for a victim to want to scrub themselves clean to be rid of the incident, doing so will remove some of the evidence that the rape kit might otherwise have secured. Instead, put aside the desire to clean up until after the examination.

If the victim has already cleaned themselves up following a sexual assault, they may still undergo an analysis using a rape kit. There may be less evidence to preserve, but a crime lab can analyze any DNA obtained within 72 hours of the event. There may also be additional physical evidence that the nurse may be able to identify during the examination.

The examination itself may last a few hours. Some victims may want someone with them during the process for support. By contacting the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE), you can connect with an advocate who may be able to come to the exam with you.

Be aware that if you invite someone other than an advocate into the exam room, they may be called as a witness if you report the crime. It’s helpful to let them know this in advance.

If you are not sure where to turn, RAINN can help.

Call 800-656-HOPE (4673) to talk confidentially with a trained professional from RAINN.

They can put you in touch with local resources and organizations that can help in your healing journey.

If you want to speak to a lawyer about your experience, we can help.

How Does a Rape Kit Work?

The process of a sexual assault forensic exam can be traumatizing to the victim. Having someone with you may ease any feelings of emotional discomfort.

Nurses may also be able to provide support during the examination, especially if they have specific training in trauma or abuse. It’s also helpful to bring a fresh set of clothing to change into following the examination.

Treatment of Obvious Injuries

If you were physically injured as a result of the sexual assault, those wounds will be addressed first. The nurse may take pictures of the injuries or otherwise document them for evidence collection purposes. Common physical injuries sustained during a sexual assault include cuts, scrapes, or bruises, but more severe injuries are possible.

Medical History of Patient

Before beginning the full examination, the nurse will ask for your medical history. You should advise them of any medications that you take and any pre-existing conditions you have.

They may also ask you questions regarding your recent sexual activity, such as whether you have had sex with anyone consensually. The reason that they ask this is to ensure that any evidence they obtain is connected to the perpetrator and not someone you have been with consensually.

Full Examination of Patient

The examination performed by the nurse will cover your entire body, from the top of your head to your feet. They will scrape the exterior of your body for any DNA evidence of the perpetrator and perform internal examinations of the mouth, vagina, and anus.

Most nurses will ask you for urine and blood samples. These samples can document evidence of any drugs, alcohol, or STIs that may be in your system.

In some cases, the nurses may ask you for your clothing, including your underwear. They must ask you for your permission before taking these, but giving them the clothing can add further evidence to your case.

All of the evidence that the nurse obtains will be fully labeled, documented, and sealed as part of the rape kit, then sent to the laboratory for processing purposes.

Follow-Up Care

After the examination, the nurse will likely offer you recommendations for follow-up care. Some commonly provided information includes:

  • Resources for survivors of sexual assault
  • Psychologists who have experience with sexual abuse or sexual assault cases
  • Information on treatment for STIs
  • Recommended physicians for follow-up treatment of any physical injuries

It may take some time for victims to mentally process what they have been through. That’s okay — sexual assault is a traumatic experience. You may follow the recommendations for follow-up care when you feel ready to do so.

How Long is Rape Kit Evidence Stored?

The evidence obtained by medical professionals with the help of a rape kit and thorough medical examination will be stored for a period of time that varies according to state law. The examining nurse, a sexual assault advocate, or a law enforcement professional will be able to tell you how long this will be.

In some cases, this length of time does not align with the state statute of limitations for reporting criminal sexual assault. Thus, make sure to consult with a legal professional to understand your state’s statute of limitations should you decide to pursue the incident through the legal system.

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