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,” 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 at a later time.
To find a location near you that performs sexual assault forensic exams, call the New York State Hotline for Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence at 1-800-942-6906 or contact your local rape crisis program.
How do I maintain evidence before the exam?
If you are able to, try to avoid activities that could potentially damage evidence such as:
- Using the restroom
- Changing clothes
- Combing hair
- 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 in order 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.
What’s involved with 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, pre-existing 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. You can learn more about mandatory reporting laws in your state through RAINN’s State Law Database.
- 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.
Where are the SAFE Centers of Excellence in New York State?
The Sexual Assault Reform Act, enacted in FY 2000, significantly expanded the Department of Health’s role in addressing sexual assault. Upon the request of a qualifying hospital, the Department of Health may designate that hospital as having an approved Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE) program. Such hospital program shall meet the standards for treatment of sexual assault victims and maintenance of sexual offense evidence and shall make available to survivors, on a 24-hour per day basis, specially trained Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners. Such programs (may also be referred to as Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) and Sexual Assault Examiner (SAE) programs) are comprehensive by providing medical care and forensic examinations in a private setting; provide specialized standards of medical care and evidence collection; and coordinate an interdisciplinary collaborative effort involving a hospital-based SAFE program, a rape crisis center, law enforcement, the prosecutor’s office and other appropriate service agencies to provide a coordinated response that can effectively meet the needs of the survivor as well as improve the overall community response to sexual assault.