What Is a Rape Kit?

Rape is the crime of forcing sexual intercourse upon someone by means of intimidation, threat of bodily injury, violence, menace, or duress. Rape can also occur while the victim is unconscious, intoxicated, physically restrained, or mentally disabled. If someone rapes you, know that what happened to you was not your fault. Also know that it is not okay for someone to do something to you without your consent. You have a legal right to take action against the perpetrator. One of the most important elements in a case against an alleged perpetrator is the rape kit, or sexual assault forensic exam.

What to Do After Sexual Assault

After any type of sexual assault, put your safety first. Call 911 if you have injuries or are in immediate danger. Get to a safe place, such as a trusted friend or family member’s house. Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-(800)-656-4673 to speak to a trained staff member about what to do next. Someone can direct you to a local health facility that will provide a rape kit to serve as evidence in your case against the perpetrator. Try not to shower or groom yourself before going to the hospital, as this could destroy important evidence.

What a Rape Kit Entails

The professional term for a rape kit is a sexual assault forensic exam. Despite its nickname, a rape kit is not only for rape. It is something a hospital may use after any type of sexual assault. A rape kit is a tool that can help bring justice against a sexual assailant. If you visit a hospital or clinic after surviving sexual assault, a trained staff member will perform a forensic exam to preserve any available DNA evidence from the assailant, as well as medical care. This exam includes the use of a rape kit.

A rape kit contains instructions for the provider, as well as tools such as cotton swabs, sterile baggies, a comb, envelopes and materials for blood samples. In most cases, you must request a rape kit within 72 hours of a sexual assault for any evidence retrieved to be valid for use during a civil claim. You do not have to report the rape or sexual assault to the police to receive a rape kit, but the rape kit can provide key evidence if you do choose to go to the police later. Note, however, if you are a minor, the law may require the physician to report to the authorities.

What to Expect

A rape kit can seem intimidating as someone who just survived an extremely traumatic experience such as sexual assault. Keep in mind, however, that it can be a vital part of a case against your attacker. Knowing what to expect from the forensic exam process can make it less daunting.

  • Immediate medical care. If you have injuries, the doctor or nurse will tend to these first. Then, you will answer a brief questionnaire about your medical history, pre-existing conditions and current medications, as well as your consensual sexual activity.
  • Physical examination. The doctor will conduct a physical exam and collect samples, if available. This may include internal examinations of the mouth and/or sexual organs, as well as photographs of your body to document physical injuries. With your permission, the doctor may also collect articles of your clothing.
  • Follow-up appointment. Many physicians will schedule follow-up appointments to treat any physical injuries and screen for sexually transmitted diseases or infections.

You can decline any part of a rape kit. It can take a few hours to complete a sexual assault forensic exam. It can help to go with someone who supports you, or at least to call the National Sexual Assault Hotline for guidance beforehand. The hotline may have an advocate who can go with you. The doctor’s office will carefully seal the contents of your rape kit to protect it from contamination. A California rape lawyer can then use the results to help you bring a perpetrator to justice.