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Understanding Sexual Assault Examinations And What To Expect

If you find yourself a victim of sexual assault, it can be an overwhelming and traumatic experience, leaving you unsure of the next steps to take or where to seek help. The aftermath of such an event has profound effects, but it’s crucial to know the necessary actions to protect yourself and begin building a case against the perpetrator as swiftly as possible. This involves seeking medical attention at a local hospital or health center for a sexual assault examination.

What Is a Sexual Assault Examination? A sexual assault examination – also often called a sexual assault forensic exam (SAFE) or “rape kit” – is a critical procedure that includes a medical evaluation for treating injuries and a forensic exam for collecting and preserving evidence. These exams are conducted by trained professionals such as sexual assault nurse examiners or physicians and involves a thorough physical examination, including a genital exam, and the collecting of swabs and samples of DNA evidence.

The purpose of a sexual assault examination is to evaluate the survivor’s physical and mental health, administer necessary medical care and counseling, provide supportive resources, and gather evidence left by the perpetrator. 

What Can I Expect? The examination process is supportive and thorough, involving a crisis counselor and a medically trained professional. The survivor can choose the gender of the provider for comfort. The process includes changing into patient attire over a paper drop cloth, utilizing alternative light sources for evidence detection, physical examinations, evidence collection, and necessary care information dissemination, including testing for STIs or pregnancy and scheduling follow-ups.

When Do I Need to Get My Examination? It is recommended to have a forensic exam conducted within 96 hours of the assault to ensure the availability of DNA evidence. The effectiveness of the exam is maximized by avoiding changes to your physical state post-assault, such as not bathing, changing clothes, or consuming food or beverages. Directly proceeding to a medical facility post-assault increases the likelihood of preserving the attacker’s DNA.

Will I Have to Pay for It? In many jurisdictions, sexual assault forensic exams are provided free of charge, covered by victim compensation programs. These programs often include advocacy support to assist victims through the exam process, secure emergency services, and navigate legal protections such as restraining orders.

Do I Really Need One? While undergoing a sexual assault examination is not mandatory for pursuing a sexual abuse lawsuit, it can significantly bolster your case by providing compelling evidence against the assailant. However, even in the absence of such an exam, legal representatives can seek alternative evidence through witness statements, reports, photographs, and circumstantial evidence to support a civil claim.

What Will Happen to My Information? The collected evidence and information are securely stored by the medical facility, with retention periods varying based on the facility’s policies. This data is crucial for legal proceedings should the survivor choose to press charges or file a lawsuit, emphasizing the importance of confirming the facility’s evidence retention practices.What Happens After? Survivors always have the option to pursue criminal charges against their perpetrator and should contact law enforcement.  For those looking to pursue sexual assault or abuse claims for compensation, it is important to consult with a qualified rape victim lawyer specializing in sexual assault cases. Attorneys, like our friends at Kellogg & Van Aken LLP, will offer confidential consultations to evaluate your case, discuss your options, and guide you on your best next steps.