Forensic Exam- A forensic exam is done to collect and preserve evidence that can be used in court. For sexual assault, this is commonly referred to as collecting a “rape kit”. Evidence is best collected as soon as possible or at least within 96 hours of the sexual assault or rape.
What to expect - upon arrival?
A Sexual Assault Response Advocate, the Volunteer or S.A.N.E. Coordinator will meet you when arriving at ONE PLACE Family Justice Center (530 S. Lawrence Street, Montgomery, Alabama). They will direct you throughout the confidential and private facility. A Sexual Assault Response Advocate is there to support you and answer any questions about the SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner)/forensic examination process. From this initial meeting, until the total forensic examination is completed, the Sexual Assault Response Advocate will be at your side offering support.
Upon the arrival of the SANE nurse, a brief interview will be conducted. The interview is designed to gather basic information about you and to determine the specifics of the sexual assault. During this process, you may ask any questions. After the interview, you, the Sexual Assault Response Advocate and SANE Nurse will begin the process for your examination room.
The examination room is equipped with state-of-the-art equipment that is not available in local emergency rooms. The examination room and equipment are designed specifically to maintain the maximum level of comfort for the survivor, provide the necessary medical treatment, and collect the required forensic evidence.
After the examination is completed, you will have the option to shower. Often, the survivor’s clothing is retained as forensic evidence. Clothing is provided to you, if this is the case. After the exam and/or shower, the Sexual Assault Response Advocate will ensure that you get to a safe place. Follow-up by Case Management staff is done with you within 72 hours of your visit to ONE PLACE Family Justice Center facility, unless otherwise requested. Counseling, legal advocacy and support groups are discussed to aid in your healing process.
What to expect – forensic exam
DNA evidence from a crime like sexual assault can be collected from the crime scene, but it can also be collected from your body, clothes, and other personal belongings. You may choose to have a sexual assault forensic exam, sometimes known as a “rape kit,” (Sexual Assault Forensic Exam Kit “SAFE”) to preserve possible DNA evidence and receive important medical care. You don’t have to report the crime to have an exam, but the process gives you the chance to safely store evidence should you decide to report later.
What is a rape kit? (Sexual Assault Forensic Exam Kit “SAFE”)
You may have heard the term “rape kit” to refer to a sexual assault forensic exam. The term rape kit refers to the kit itself—a container that includes a checklist, materials, and instructions, along with envelopes and containers to package any specimens collected during the exam. A rape kit may also be referred to as a Sexual Assault Forensic Kit (SAFE). The contents of the kit vary by state and jurisdiction and may include:
Bags and paper sheets for evidence collection
Materials for blood samples
Preparing for a sexual assault forensic exam
Avoid activities that could potentially damage evidence
Using the restroom
Cleaning up the area
It’s natural to want to go through these motions after a traumatic experience. If you have done any of these activities, you can still have an exam performed. You may want to bring a spare change of clothes with you to the hospital or health facility where you’re going to have the exam.
In most cases, DNA evidence needs to be collected within 72 hours to be analyzed by a crime lab—but a sexual assault forensic exam can reveal other forms of evidence beyond this time frame that can be useful if you decide to report. Place your belongings, including the clothes you were wearing, in a paper bag to safely preserve evidence. If you have questions about the timeframe, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or talk to your local sexual assault service provider – Lighthouse Counseling Center’s Standing Together Against Rape (STAR) program representatives.
How long is the exam?
The length of the exam may take a few hours, but the actual time will vary based on several different factors. You may wish to have a Sexual Assault Advocate present with you. The advocate is someone who can talk to you about the examination and offer support. The advocate may also be able to accompany you during the actual exam. Be aware that if you invite someone other than an advocate into the exam room, they could be called as a witness if you decide to report the crime.
What happens during a sexual assault forensic exam?
The steps below outline the general process for the exam. Remember, you can stop, pause, or skip a step at any time during the exam. It is entirely your choice.
Immediate care. If you have injuries that need immediate attention, those will be taken care of first.
History. You will be asked about your current medications, preexisting conditions, and other questions pertaining to your health history. Some of the questions, such as those about recent consensual sexual activity, may seem very personal, but these questions are designed to ensure that DNA and other evidence collected from the exam can be connected to the perpetrator. You will also be asked about the details of what has happened to you to help identify all potential areas of injury as well as places on your body or clothes where evidence may be located.
Head-to-toe examination. This part of the exam may be based on your specific experience, which is why it is important to give an accurate history. It may include a full body examination, including internal examinations of the mouth, vagina, and/or anus. It may also include taking samples of blood, urine, swabs of body surface areas, and sometimes hair samples. The trained professional performing the exam may take pictures of your body to document injuries and the examination. With your permission, they may also collect items of clothing, including undergarments. Any other forms of physical evidence that are identified during the examination may be collected and packaged for analysis, such as a torn piece of the perpetrator’s clothing, a stray hair, or debris.
Possible mandatory reporting. If you are a minor, the person performing the exam may be obligated to report it to law enforcement.
Blood Samples. Blood will be drawn if the assault was suspected to be drug induced. Vaginal Examination: A examination for signs of internal injury and collection of any physical evidence left by the rapist may be done. Traces of semen may be detectable in the vagina and on the cervix for 72 hours. At the SANE Facility, a colposcope is used to detect and photograph injuries. In rare cases, the SANE may use a speculum to aid in evidence collection.
Physical Evidence. If the client chooses to report the rape, a Sexual Assault Forensic Exam (SAFE) kit is used collect evidence. This includes collection of pubic hairs, head hairs, foreign matter on the body (which could include samples of the rapist’s hair, blood or skin), the clothes worn at the time of the assault, and pictures of documentation of any redness, swelling, scrapes, bumps, bruises or other evidence of external injury.
Clothing. If client is still wearing clothing that was worn during the time of assault the client may be asked to leave it as evidence. In majority of cases, the underwear will be collected and submitted in the evidence kit.
Survivors are NOT required to leave their clothes, but we do encourage them to do so.
If client has clothing evidence at home, recommend that they separate the clothing and place each item in a separate paper bag and call police to collect it. Paper bags are used instead of plastic because paper bags allow the clothing items to dry completely.
Follow up care. You may be offered prevention treatment for STIs and other forms of medical care that require a follow up appointment with a medical professional. Depending on the circumstances and where you live, the exam site may schedule a follow up appointment, or you can ask about resources in your community that offer follow up care for survivors of sexual assault. Someone from the exam site may also be able to provide information or resources about reporting options.
Who can perform the exam? Not every hospital or health facility has someone on staff that is specially trained to perform a sexual assault forensic exam and interact with recent survivors of sexual assault. When you call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) you will be directed to a facility that is prepared to give you the care you need. Locally the Lighthouse Counseling Center’s Standing Together Against Rape (STAR) team serves victims of sexual assault in a nine (9) county region surrounding and including Montgomery, Alabama.
Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) — registered nurses who receive specialized education and fulfill clinical requirements to perform the exam
Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners (SAFEs) and Sexual Assault Examiners (SAEs) — other healthcare professionals who have been instructed and trained to complete the exam
Why should you consider having a sexual assault medical forensic exam?
It won’t cost you. You should not be charged for the exam. The Violence Against Women Act requires states to provide sexual assault forensic exams free of charge if they wish to remain eligible for critical anti-crime grant funding. If you are charged for the exam, immediately contact your local sexual assault service provider.
You can have time to decide if you want to report. The decision to report the crime is entirely yours. It may take some time to decide what to do. Having a sexual assault forensic exam ensures that the forensic evidence will be safely preserved if you decide to report later.
It increases the likelihood of prosecution. The importance of DNA evidence in sexual assault cases cannot be overstated. Not only does DNA evidence carry weight in court, but it may prevent future sexual assaults from occurring. Even if the perpetrator is not prosecuted, their DNA may be added to the national database, making it easier to connect the perpetrator to a future crime.
Your health matters. Sexual assault can affect your physical health. You may have injuries and trauma related to the assaults that aren’t immediately visible. During an exam you may be able to access treatment for these injuries, receive preventative treatment for STIs, and obtain emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy.
How long will the evidence be stored?
The amount of time an evidence kit will be stored varies by state and jurisdiction. A SANE, advocate, or law enforcement officer should let you know how long the evidence will be stored and the state’s rules for disposing the kit. It’s important to note that the amount of time the kit is stored doesn’t necessarily match up with the amount of time that legal action can be taken against a perpetrator, also known as the statute of limitation. If you have questions about timing, statutes of limitation, or any other concerns, contact your local sexual assault service provider.
If you need help
Visit ONE PLACE Family Justice Center at 530 S. Lawrence Street, Montgomery, Alabama or call 334.262.7378 or if you are in immediate danger Call 911.