What Is a Rape Kit? | StrongerThan.org

Our Blog

What is a Rape Kit?

Whether or not to report the assault to the police is a question that often weighs heavily on survivors. While the collection of a rape kit does not mandate reporting to law enforcement, it does preserve the option should the survivor choose to report later.

April 22, 2024
HomeSexual Abuse BlogWhat is a Rape Kit?

A rape kit, or sexual assault evidence kit, is a collection of items used by healthcare professionals to gather and preserve physical evidence from a person who has been sexually assaulted, regardless of their gender. This evidence can support any future lawsuits the survivor may file and help ensure they receive appropriate medical care. In this article, we explore what is a rape kit, the contents of a rape kit, the procedures involved during a forensic exam, and the overall importance of these kits in cases of sexual assault.

Key Takeaways

  • A rape kit is a collection of items used by healthcare professionals to preserve evidence of rape or sexual assault.
  • It can be helpful in tracking the perpetrator or substantiating the survivor’s account of events.
  • Rape kits are performed by specially trained sexual assault professionals

What Is a Rape Kit For?

A rape kit, officially known as a sexual assault evidence kit, serves a twofold purpose in the wake of sexual abuse or sexual assault.

  1. Firstly, it’s a tool for evidence collection and gathering potential DNA from a person’s body, clothing, and personal belongings. This evidence can be crucial in tracking the perpetrator or substantiating the survivor’s account of events.
  2. Secondly, the exam process helps provide immediate and necessary medical care to the survivor, addressing any physical trauma and preventing potential health complications.

Rape kits are performed by specially trained sexual assault professionals, such as Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE), Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners (SAFE), or Sexual Assault Examiners (SAE). These professionals are equipped with the skills to examine survivors while minimizing further trauma and ensuring a thorough and accurate collection of evidence to send to the crime lab. Their role is pivotal in bridging the gap between the medical treatment of survivors and the legal procedures that follow a sexual assault case.

What Is Rape?

Rape is non-consensual sexual intercourse. It covers various types, such as stranger, marital, and statutory rape. The fundamental element is the absence of consent, regardless of the relationship between the involved parties. The definition of rape has included marital rape in every state since 1993.

After an assault, a forensic exam can collect evidence to assist in prosecuting rape cases, even if the survivor isn’t currently sure they want to press charges yet.

What Is Sexual Assault?

The definition of sexual assault includes a broader spectrum of non-consensual sexual actions, including and extending beyond unwanted touching, groping, or various forms of sexual coercion. Some types of sexual assault include: rape, forced sexual acts, sexual exploitation, and non-consensual sharing of intimate images. Bear in mind that anyone can be sexually assaulted, as sexual assault can happen to individuals irrespective of age, gender, or relationship status.

Stronger Then Droplet Icon

Like rape, all forms of physical sexual assault can warrant a forensic exam, highlighting the importance of rape kits in both evidence collection and survivor care.

What Is In a Rape Kit?

While the contents of a rape kit aren’t always identical, they generally contain items for recording and collecting evidence. These might include forms and instructions for evidence documentation, swabs and other blood sample collection materials, a urinalysis kit, and a comb for hair sample collection. Each element of the kit carries its significance, all working cohesively to gather potential DNA evidence and document physical injuries related to the evidence collected.

What is included in a rape kit varies from state to state, but generally a collection kit includes:

  • Instructions: The directions guide the healthcare professional through the correct order and method of collecting evidence to ensure the integrity of the samples.
  • Forms for documenting evidence: Forms record details about the evidence collected during the exam, including the time and date of collection and any observations made by the examiner.
  • Comb (for collecting hair samples): A comb collects any foreign hair from the survivor’s body, which may belong to the perpetrator and can be used for DNA analysis.
  • Collection materials for blood samples: This includes vials, swabs, and other tools necessary for collecting blood samples that may contain DNA evidence.
  • Swabs: Sterile swabs collect biological materials from the survivor’s skin or bodily orifices. These samples can be tested for the presence of the perpetrator’s DNA.

Another crucial component of a rape kit is the urinalysis kit, which is used to test for the presence of substances that could indicate drug-facilitated sexual assault, commonly known as “date rape drugs“. These substances, which include drugs like Rohypnol, GHB, and ketamine, can impair a person’s ability to resist or recall an assault. The detection window for these drugs in urine is limited, with some substances being traceable for only a few hours after ingestion.

The rape kit’s contents are meticulously designed to help capture, protect, and preserve any possible DNA evidence from the survivor’s body and clothing. The collection of this forensic biological evidence is a crucial aspect of sexual assault investigations, helping to identify the perpetrator, validating the survivor’s account, supporting the prosecution’s case in criminal court, as well as strengthening any civil lawsuit the survivor files.

A doctor explaining something to a patient

What Does a Rape Kit Cost?

Due to the vital role of a rape kit in sexual assault cases, the cost shouldn’t be a barrier to a survivor seeking justice. Per The Violence Against Women Act, the price of a rape kit is covered by the Victims of Crime Compensation Program, making it available at no cost for survivors.

While the forensic exam is free, survivors may need to access other resources, such as legal or mental health support, and financial help may be available for these services.

Who Funds the Victims of Crime Compensation Program?

The Victims of Crime Compensation Program is primarily funded by fines, fees, and surcharges against convicted offenders. This includes both federal and state-level offenders. The program manifests the principle that perpetrators should contribute to the healing and recovery of those they hurt.

In addition to these sources, the program may receive federal grants, specifically from the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Fund, managed by the Office for Victims of Crime, a component of the Office of Justice Programs. The VOCA fund is replenished by federal criminal fines, forfeited bail bonds, penalties, and special assessments collected by U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, federal U.S. courts, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The funds are then distributed to state Victim Compensation and Victim Assistance Programs. These state programs have their criteria and methods for disbursing the funds to survivors, ensuring that those affected by crime receive the support they need without additional financial stress. The goal is for survivors to have access to vital services, like medical care.

What To Expect During a Sexual Assault Forensic Exam

Undergoing a sexual assault forensic exam might cause apprehension among survivors. Gaining insights into what the process entails can help reduce some of this anxiety. The exam is performed by trained professionals, such as Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs).

It’s advised to avoid changing clothes, brushing teeth, showering, and combing hair if possible, as these actions can compromise evidence. It’s important to note that a forensic exam can still be conducted even if these actions have been taken, especially since it’s a common instinct to shower after such a traumatic event. While one priority is to preserve as much forensic evidence as possible, the survivor’s well-being is of utmost importance. Medical professionals can work with whatever circumstances are presented to them.

The process of caring for a survivor of abuse and conducting a forensic exam at a hospital or health facility includes the following steps:

  1. Immediate Treatment of Injuries: The initial step in the exam process is to address any physical injuries the survivor may have sustained. This ensures immediate health needs are met, and any injuries are documented.
  2. Medical History Collection: A healthcare provider gathers the survivor’s medical history. Professionals document any pre-existing conditions that may affect someone’s care and the assault’s impact on health.
  3. Conducting the Exam: A Sexual Assault Examiner performs the forensic exam, collecting evidence, offering support, and maintaining the survivor’s comfort and dignity throughout the process.
  4. Understanding Mandatory Reporting: Sometimes, the law may require healthcare providers to report the incident to authorities. This is especially true if the survivor is a minor who was sexually abused, elderly, or a dependent adult.
  5. Offering Follow-Up Care: Survivors receive comprehensive information about follow-up care options. This includes additional medical treatment, counseling, and support services tailored to their needs. One part of this care could be access to emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy resulting from the assault. Additionally, an STI screening can address potential infections. Mental health resources are also available to support survivors’ psychological well-being as they navigate recovery.

To ensure ongoing care, survivors can access a range of services through various legal channels. For more detailed information on health-related support, survivors are encouraged to review the resources on StrongerThan.org, which offers information on obtaining assistance in finding the necessary medical and mental health care.

In addition, survivors looking to connect with a rape crisis center in their vicinity can reach out to a sexual assault hotline. One such resource is RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), which provides confidential support and assistance.

Do You Have To Report Sexual Assault To the Police?

Whether or not to report the assault to the police is a question that often weighs heavily on survivors. While the collection of a rape kit does not mandate reporting to law enforcement, it does preserve the option should the survivor choose to report later. Cases involving minors, elderly individuals, or dependent adults require mandatory reporting, barring some state-specific loopholes.

A female police officer consoling a small child

What If I Didn’t Report a Rape To the Police?

Even if you didn’t report the assault immediately, know that you still could have options. Pursuing a civil case can be an alternative avenue for seeking justice, regardless of whether a criminal case was pursued or the outcome of it. Engaging the services of an experienced sexual assault lawyer can make a significant difference in the civil litigation process. For comprehensive legal support and to connect with seasoned experts in the field, review StrongerThan.org’s legal help resources.

Furthermore, for some, a sexual abuse lawyer can be instrumental in advocating for the timely processing of a rape kit. In many instances, rape kits go untested, leaving critical evidence on the shelves and survivors without answers. The systemic problems underscore the necessity for legal intervention to ensure that every kit and every survivor’s story is given the attention it deserves.

What Is the Statute of Limitations on Sexual Assault?

The statute of limitations for sexual crimes is a legal time frame during which a survivor can report a sexual assault to law enforcement and press charges. This period varies by state and the nature of the crime. However, even if the statute of limitations has expired, survivors may still have legal recourse through “lookback windows.” These are specific periods during which survivors can file a civil lawsuit despite the statute of limitations having passed. To understand the nuances of your case, especially if the statute of limitations period has lapsed, it’s recommended to consult with a knowledgeablesexual assault lawyer.

In the case of child sexual abuse, different statutes of limitations apply, and these also vary widely by state. A child sexual abuse lawyer can provide insight into specific situations. Top sexual assault lawyers have fought for restitution for the survivors of school, Boy Scout, and clergy sexual abuse. CSA survivors may find additional support and information on StrongerThan.org, a resource dedicated to aiding those affected by such crimes.

Transform your pain into your greatest strength

Final Thoughts: What Is a Rape Kit?

In the aftermath of a sexual assault, the world may seem to spin. Yet, in the turmoil, the rape kit emerges as a ray of hope. It can serve as a critical tool for collecting evidence, which could be instrumental in identifying the perpetrator and substantiating the survivor’s account of events.

Beyond evidence collection, the rape kit also plays a significant role in providing immediate and necessary medical care. This includes treating physical injuries and preventing potential health complications. The decision to report the assault to law enforcement ultimately rests with the survivor and the rape kit preserves the option, should they choose to pursue it.

StrongerThan.org provides helpful resources for survivors of rape and sexual assault. Contact us to see how we can help you.

BG World
A nationwide support resource for victims of sexual abuse