What is a Rape Kit: Bringing Transparency to the Sexual Assault Forensic Exam
Personally, I’ve had mornings in my drinking days of waking up in an anxiety explosion…What happened the night before? One time, there was a condom in my bed, and I was blocked by the person I was with. At the time, I chose to do nothing “official” about these things. But, I think if something were to happen today… I would.
If you’ve been assaulted—you are not alone. You have choices for emotional and medical care – one of them being a rape kit.
We’re going to talk about what a rape kit is, the process, and what happens after the official exam.
What is a rape kit?
Also known as a sexual assault forensic exam, a rape kit is a forensic exam of your body, clothes, and other personal belongings to collect DNA and other evidence that can be used in a criminal investigation, if you ever choose to press charges.
An official rape kit, or sexual assault forensic exam, is performed by trained doctors and nurses in an official hospital setting.
The rape kit itself refers to the “kit” itself — which usually contains:
- Bags for evidence collection
- Documentation forms
- Instructions and/or a checklist
- Materials for blood samples
Rape kits should be performed no later than 72 hours after sexual assault to help ensure evidence collection and preservation.
When deciding to have a sexual assault exam, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be directed to a facility that is prepared to give you the care you need. Not every hospital or medical facility has the staff to perform a sexual assault forensic exam.
Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) — are registered nurses who receive specialized education to perform these types of exams.
You may also have a Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFEs) or a Sexual Assault Examiner (SAEs) perform the exam. They are both healthcare professionals who have been instructed and trained to complete a sexual assault exam.
What should I do before the exam?
Experiencing sexual assault is a traumatizing experience. When deciding to have a rape kit performed, there are things you should and should not do before the examination.
If possible, you should not:
- Take a bath
- Use the restroom
- Change clothes
- Comb your hair
This is due to the fact that these things can destroy DNA evidence. If you have done any of these things, you can still have a sexual assault forensic exam performed.
- Place your belongings and clothes in a paper bag
- Bring a pair of extra clothes to the hospital
- Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) to ask any questions
What is a rape kit examination like?
The rape kit procedure is an often long and invasive process that can take anywhere from 2-6 hours.
While this can be retraumatizing, it can also be empowering to your future self and other people because you can help yourself heal and protect others against the perpetrator.
Before the Exam
A doctor or nurse will take care of you and any injuries that require treatment. Then, they’ll ask about your medical history, about the assault, and check-in on your emotional state. At any time, you can stop to ask questions, choose to skip a part, or leave.
You are not obligated to answer any questions you feel uncomfortable with. Often, you can also have someone you trust in the room with you. Sometimes, local hotline advocates can also sit with you during this process.
You should be aware that if you have someone other than an advocate in the room, they could be called as a witness if you choose to report the crime.
During the Exam
Protocol may vary slightly by state, but rape kits have the same goal: to collect enough evidence to bring your perpetrator to justice.
The exam itself is designed to collect any and all evidence of the sexual assault. While the overall proces varies, in general it is a head-to-toe examination. They may perform a full body examination including examining your mouth, breasts, genitals, and/or anus. It may also include taking your blood, urine, fingernail scrapings, and/or collecting fibers from your body, hair, and clothes.
They will also likely take photos of your body to document injuries.
With permission, they may also take your clothes, including undergarments, for additional testing. If you have any of the perpetrator’s items, such as their undergarments or a condom, they may also take this as evidence.
They will gather and seal your clothing, photos, swabs, and samples for testing.
Remember: you can skip or stop any step of this process. You are in control.
After the Exam
Depending on your age, mandatory reporting may be required. You can learn more about mandatory reporting requirements here.
You may be offered STI treatment(s) and oral contraceptives to mitigate STI and pregnancy risk. These may require a follow-up appointment.
Your kit will then be stored, based on the local jurisidction’s policies, for varying amounts of time. The examiner should let you know about the local policies and procedures.
Please note, the amount of time that the kit is stored does not necessarily match up to the amount of time you have to take legal action against the perpetrator. Statute of limitations vary across jurisdictions.
The kit is either immediately transferred to crime labs for testing, or if you’re unsure, can be stored at the exam facility or a law enforcement facility as an “anonymous” kit.
After the exam, you should focus on taking care of yourself and not feel pressured to immediately press charges or get past the experience. We have some resources and hotlines below to help navigate your experience.
How much does a rape kit cost?
A rape kit should be free. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) fought for states to cover these costs. You may be asked to submit the exam to insurance but are not required to pay a deductible or copay. If you are charged for the exam, immediately contact your local sexual assault service provider for assistance.
When will I find out the rape kit results?
There is no known final date when you will receive the “results” of the kit. There’s been a backlog in rape kits nationwide, meaning thousands of kits sit waiting without being tested. This is not something that’s gone unnoticed, and activists are fighting to change the system. The Joyful Heart Foundation started the End the Backlog initiative to create better systems and more timely results.
What happens next?
You focus on your healing journey. You be easy on yourself. You remember it was never your fault, you did nothing wrong, and you continue to live in the body that has always been and will be yours and yours alone.
You do the next best thing in front of you, and that’s it. What does that look like? A walk with a friend. A warm bath. A healthy meal. A cozy nap. A workout. Listen to your heart and take small steps. When you look back, you’ll see how far you’ve come.
There are resources and individuals trained to help you before, during, and after your experience.
National Sexual Assault Hotline by RAIIN
Call (800) 656-HOPE (4673), 24/7 or chat online
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Call 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or text 1-800.787.3224 www.thehotline.org
RAIIN has created a resource for local sexual assault service providers which can help you with things from counseling, to hospital accompaniment, to emergency shelter.