What is a rape kit?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Oct 10, 2016 | 0 Comments

The back-up of rate kit processing has been much in the news of late. But what exactly is a rape kit?

A rape kit – more properly known as a sexual assault evidence kit (SAEK) or sexual assault kit (SAK)– is a container that includes materials and instructions for collecting possible DNA specimens during a sexual assault forensic exam.

It is not necessary to report a sexual assault in order to have a sexual assault forensic exam. However, DNA must normally be collected within 72 hours (although some states allow as much as five days). A rape kit can, therefore, preserve evidence in the event that a possible victim thereafter wishes to report the crime.

Can any hospital process a rape kit?

A sexual assault forensic examination needs to be performed by a healthcare professional with the proper training: a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE), sexual assault forensic examiner (SAFE), sexual assault examiner (SAE), or forensic nurse examiner (FNE).

If you believe you have been sexually assaulted, you can call RAINN's National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800 656-HOPE (4673) or a local sexual assault service provider to find a location where a rape kit can be collected.

What is in a rape kit?

Rape kits vary somewhat from state to state, but often include:

  • Written instructions,
  • Envelopes,
  • Bags and paper sheets for collecting evidence,
  • A comb
  • Forms for documenting the evidence,
  • Swabs, and
  • Materials for blood samples.

What happens during a sexual assault forensic exam?

Again, the process can vary, but during a rape kit collection, the following steps are often taken:

  • Injuries are cared for. 
  • A medical history is taken.
  • A thorough medical examination is conducted and swabs/samples taken. 
  • Chemical testing if you believe you have been drugged.
  • Possible mandatory reporting if the laws in your state require it (for example, if you are under age).
  • Follow-up care advised and/or scheduled.
  • Referral to additional resources.

These steps may take as long as several hours. You are usually permitted to have someone else with you during the exam. However, you should be aware that unless the person is your attorney, they may be subject to subpoena in any future prosecution and can be asked about what you say or do.

Also, while it is natural to want to wash and clean up after a traumatic event, experts advise against it as it could destroy or damage evidence. Activities to avoid include:

  • Wiping yourself off,
  • Showering/bathing,
  • Using the bathroom,
  • Changing clothes,
  • Brushing or combing your hair, or
  • Cleaning up.

How long will it take to get back my rape kit results?

After collection, the rape kit will usually be transferred to law enforcement. If you have not yet decided to report the assault, you may be allowed to store it in a law enforcement law or the exam facility anyway.

The kit will usually remain sealed until the investigating law enforcement agency asks a crime lab to analyze it, usually after a DNA sample has been collected from the alleged perpetrator. In some locations, this happens automatically once a crime has been reported to police.

A rape kit can be processed in less than a week, however, three to six months is more typical. In jurisdictions with inadequate funding or many kits to process, it may take a year or more. Or the kit may never be processed at all. Reasons for this might include:

  • A decision by law enforcement not to proceed with the case for other reasons.
  • A decision by law enforcement that the kit is not necessary to the case (for instance, because the defendant admits to the sexual contact). 
  • Lack of resources or heavy backlog.

How long is a rape kit kept?

The amount of time a rape kit is kept varies by jurisdiction. If you do not report the crime, the lab will generally only keep the kit about 6 months (although it may be longer). If the crime has been reported, the kit will usually be kept for at least as long as the statute of limitations on the crime alleged. However, given the clamor to increase the statute of limitations for sexual assault and expected improvements in DNA testing, a kit may actually be kept much longer.

Where to get help...

For more information about rape kit testing, possible victims of sexual assault can contact RAINN or their local victim's assistance center.

People accused of sexual assault should contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer in the jurisdiction where they have been accused.

If you have been accused or charged with sexual assault, or you believe you might need a California sex crimes lawyer, Nevada sex crimes lawyer, or Colorado sex crimes lawyer, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation.

An accusation of sexual assault is a traumatic experience for everyone involved. The best advice we can give to anyone who may have been the victim of a sex offense or who is accused of one is to get a competent professional involved as soon as possible.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

Southern California DUI Defense attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT).


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