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Why is a Rape Kit So Important After a Sexual Assault?

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Is a Rape Kit Necessary After a Sexual Assault?

Is a Rape Kit Necessary After a Sexual Assault?

Aug 16, 2021

While you may have seen them depicted on popular television shows such as “Law & Order: SVU” or “CSI,” rape kits are essential tools for gathering critical evidence in sex crime cases. However, they also entail an invasive and uncomfortable procedure that can, particularly after enduring an ordeal as harrowing as sexual assault, be potentially traumatic for survivors. As Time Magazine reported, the process of undergoing a rape kit can last up to four hours, with the survivor being “poked, prodded, swabbed, and photographed in exactly the places a rape victim would have been violated in an attack.”

The grueling nature of such an examination in combination with an issue we’ve discussed at length in previous blogs – the rape kit backlog epidemic across the nation – can often lead survivors to forgo the process entirely.

After publishing recent blogs examining the topics of stealthing (secretive nonconsensual condom removal) and the eggshell plaintiff rule, we’ve received some questions from readers regarding whether or not undergoing a rape kit after a sexual assault incident is important.

Below we will review what the process of undergoing a forensic rape exam (often referred to as a SANE Exam or R-Kit) entails, what options are available to survivors afterward, and what legal recourse survivors may have which could lead to criminal prosecution, recovering substantial financial compensation through a civil lawsuit, or both.

If you experienced a sexual assault, don’t wait to file a claim. Contact our expert attorneys online or by phone for a free consultation today.

What is a Rape Kit Exam?

What is a Rape Kit Exam?

Rape kits or SANE Exams (conducted by a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) involve a medical process whereby forensic evidence is gathered from the body, clothing, and any other physical items that may have been with the victim at the time of the sexual assault. According to the EndtheBacklog.org website, the following items can be found within most rape kits:

  • Documentation forms and detailed instructions for the nurse examiner
  • Glass slides
  • Bags and paper sheets where the survivor can undress so that hairs/fibers may be collected
  • A comb
  • Envelopes
  • Containers and vials for collecting blood and urine samples
  • Swabs for biological evidence gathering
  • Dental floss
  • Wooden sticks or metal instruments for fingernail scrapings
  • Sterile water and saline
  • Official forms for documenting the procedure and all evidence gathered

Rape kit examinations may be conducted by a doctor or nurse, but certain hospitals have specially trained professionals on staff who have direct experience assisting sexual assault survivors. Those professionals include:

  • Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners (SAFEs)
  • Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs)

According to EndtheBacklog.org, research indicates that facilities with trained examiners “significantly increase evidence collection and investigation in sexual assault cases, which results in significantly higher prosecution rates.” Further, EndtheBacklog.org asserts that SANEs and SAFEs are specially trained to conduct rape kit exams that are “sensitive, dignified, and reduce trauma.”

Dordulian Law Group’s partner organization, RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest Network) provides a listing of local crisis centers where trained SANE and SAFE professionals are available. Survivors can search according to their specific location to find a facility nearby where a rape exam can be performed.

In the Time magazine report, Kim Hurst, director of the Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner program in Detroit, referred to the rape kit process as “a very invasive 2-4 hour plus exam.”

We’re doing pubic hair pulls or combs, we’re doing swabs of the outside of the genitalia… and then we’re doing a speculum exam [which is internal] and taking swabs that way, and if there was an anal assault we’re doing swabs there. And then we use a colposcope [a specialized medical camera] to take pictures of genital injury,” Hurst added.

How are Rape Kits Used?

Rape kits are used to gather critical forensic evidence that can help in identifying a sexual assailant. Fibers from clothing, hair, bodily fluids (saliva, semen, blood, etc.) may all be collected during a rape kit exam. Samples of cervical tissues may also be taken and sent to a laboratory for further analysis.

Additionally, blood and urine tests are performed. The blood tests can screen for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or pregnancy.

What Happens After a Rape Kit is Completed?

While forensic rape kits are typically conducted at hospitals, once the exam is completed a couple of key steps occur:

  • The evidence gathered through the rape kit is typically turned over to the police who will then conduct an investigation.
  • The DNA from the kit and potential rapist is entered into CODIS (the Combined DNA Index System), which is a national FBI database that helps law enforcement track serial sex offenders throughout the country.

What Steps Should You Take Immediately After a Rape or Sexual Assault?

While the process of undergoing a rape kit is difficult enough on its own, having to do so immediately after being raped or sexually assaulted only compounds that difficulty. However, in order to preserve evidence that can help in ultimately prosecuting the sexual offender, it is strongly recommended that survivors immediately visit a hospital and have a rape kit performed.

Although the natural instinct for any survivor is likely to want to wash away all evidence of the attack, it is recommended that – if at all possible – you avoid showering, bathing, using the restroom, combing your hair, changing your clothes, or cleaning any part of your body. Essentially, the rape kit will be most effective if you do not alter any of the possible evidence that may be on/inside your body, clothing, or belongings.

DNA evidence via a rape kit generally needs to be collected within 72 hours of a sexual assault incident. However, waiting that long will invariably diminish some of the evidence that could potentially help lead to an arrest and conviction. As difficult as it is, undergoing a rape kit examination immediately after an assault is strongly encouraged.

Does a Rape Kit Always Require Filing a Police Report?

A rape kit or forensic exam is entirely separate from a police report. In fact, you have the option to undergo a rape kit and have that evidence preserved so you can then decide at a later date whether or not you wish to file a police report and pursue criminal charges.

You do not have to report your sex crime at the time of the rape kit examination. But by having that evidence immediately gathered and then preserved, you allow yourself options for legal recourse at a later date in the event that you decide to pursue such an avenue. Moreover, those legal options are not limited to a police report and criminal investigation.

Survivors may undergo a rape kit examination, have that evidence preserved, and then at a later date decide to:

  1. File a police report and pursue criminal charges
  2. Not file a police report but instead file a civil claim in pursuit of financial compensation from the attacker
  3. File both criminal and civil claims and have the police investigate the crime in pursuit of criminal charges while a civil attorney pursues a case towards maximum financial compensation

Essentially, while it is no doubt a difficult process, undergoing a rape kit immediately after a sexual assault can ensure evidence is preserved and that you as the survivor have all options available – regardless of how you decide to proceed.

What About the Rape Kit Backlog?

As we noted in our previous blog detailing the troublesome statistics presented in the HBO documentary, “I Am Evidence,” rape kit backlogs are an issue in many cities throughout the nation. Many survivors who’ve undergone rape exams in the past have been let down by the justice system – with myriad reports of untested kits sitting in warehouses while sexual perpetrators roam free having been confirmed.

That said, the rape kit backlog should not deter a survivor from having an exam conducted (just as the Bill Cosby verdict reversal should not deter survivors from coming forward and reporting their crimes). The system is in desperate need of improvement, and many politicians and activists are working to ensure that change happens quickly.

In the meantime, however, not undergoing a rape exam after a sexual assault only serves to benefit the perpetrator, as a survivor’s case may hinge largely on such evidence.

Pursuing Justice with a Dedicated Legal Team

Dordulian Law Group (DLG) was founded by former sex crimes prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County, Sam Dordulian. In that role, Dordulian represented hundreds of survivors, helping them obtain the justice they deserved after an unfortunate sexual assault incident. Today, Dordulian leads DLG’s premier and top-rated Sex Crimes Division, helping sexual assault survivors secure justice while recovering maximum financial compensation.

As a sex crimes prosecutor, Dordulian obtained over 100 jury trial victories. That’s a level of experience that simply can’t be found at most sex crime law firms. While serving as Deputy District Attorney, Dordulian came to understand that sexual assault survivors need the absolute best legal representation to ensure justice is served, but they may also require additional resources and a support network while navigating the legal process.

Accordingly, when he founded his own private practice – DLG – Dordulian established a handpicked team of sex crime professionals to offer survivor clients access to critical resources and added advantages. Known as the SAJE Team (Sexual Assault Justice Experts), these professionals comprise a four-tiered network providing 24/7 support and dedication to each and every DLG survivor client.

DLG’s SAJE Team includes:

  • Sam Dordulian, lead litigator and former sex crimes prosecutor/Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County with over 100 jury trial victories
  • An in-house licensed clinical therapist with over 15 years of experience assisting survivors of sexual assault
  • Moses Castillo, our in-house Chief Investigator and a retired LAPD sex crimes detective with nearly 30 years of experience
  • Two licensed and nationally accredited victim advocates who have dedicated their careers to serving survivors

Our Sexual Assault Justice Experts are here to help survivors secure justice. Contact our top-rated attorneys online or by phone for a free consultation today.

Sexual assault survivors choose DLG because of our experience, dedication, and proven results. With DLG, survivors have peace of mind knowing that their sexual assault claim is in the best possible hands:

  • Over $100,000,000 successfully recovered in settlements and verdicts
  • A 98% success record maintained throughout the years
  • Former sex crimes prosecutor
  • Former Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County
  • In-house Chief Investigator/retired LAPD sex crimes detective
  • Over 40 years of combined sex crimes experience
  • Elite SAJE Team dedicated to supporting survivors

DLG is California’s trusted and proven sexual assault firm. Contact us today online or by phone at 818-322-4056 for a free consultation. At DLG, we believe survivors and we’re here to serve as your dedicated legal advocates – fighting for justice and to secure the maximum financial compensation you deserve.

Our No Win/No Fee Guarantee means you never have to worry about upfront costs or out-of-pocket expenses. When we take on a case, we intend to fight aggressively until it reaches a successful conclusion and justice is obtained. That’s why you never pay a penny until we recover you a maximum financial damages award for your sexual assault claim.


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