What Happens With a Rape Kit and How Is Evidence Collected

by Kristi S. Schubert


Originally written in 2020, this informative blog details what to expect
during a sexual assault forensic exam (SAFE exam) and a helpful overview of evidence collection.

Rape and sexual assault are some of the most horrific crimes imaginable. The immediate aftermath of an attack can be confusing. There are questions from police – and family – as well as intrusive medical examinations to gather evidence. But just what is a rape kit, and what does it do? What happens if no semen is found?

The Rape Kit

Also called a “sexual assault evidence kit” (SAEK), a rape kit is a collection of tools and instructions for collecting evidence after someone has been raped or sexually assaulted. Although there can be some slight variations in one or two items between states or jurisdictions, there are common items in every kit. These include:

• Forms to record all the details of the victim
• Instructions for the medical professional using the kit
• Comb
• Bags and paper sheets to collect and store any evidence collected
• Swabs
• Material/tools for blood samples
• Envelopes

Since 2015, victims of rape in Louisiana no longer have to pay for an exam or healthcare service related to their assault. This includes the initial exam, as well as later tests such as those for STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) and pregnancy.

Before an Exam

After a sexual assault, there will always be a desire to “cleanse yourself.” You feel violated, and it is only natural that you want to try and wash away what happened. However, it is crucial that you do nothing until a qualified examiner – usually a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE), a Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE), or a Sexual Assault Examiner (SAE) — has carried out the exam.

Before the exam, it is essential that you avoid any of the following:

• Having a bath or shower
• Using the toilet
• Changing your clothes
• Combing or brushing hair
• Cleaning of any intimate areas

It is advisable to take a change of clothes with you, as in some cases the police may want to retain items of your clothing.

What Happens During the Exam?

There are a number of procedural steps you will go through during the exam.

If you have suffered any injuries, these will be prioritized and treated.

You will be asked a series of questions, including health-related ones such as any medications being used and whether you have any current health issues. There will also be some very personal questions regarding sexual activity, including any recent consensual acts. These may seem intrusive but can be crucial to your case and to try to establish the guilt of the offender. You will also be asked to go through the details of the attack.

Physical Exam
This is harrowing, but a necessary part of the process. You will receive a full-body examination. This may include photographs of different areas of your body. It may also include samples such as blood, urine, and hair. Depending on the nature of the attack, there will also be internal examinations of areas such as your mouth, vagina, and anus.

You may also be offered further appointments to check for STDs or for pregnancy. In many cases, patients are offered Plan B contraceptives and antibiotics to fight infection and prevent pregnancy.

You will either be referred to or provided with information on rape crisis and support organizations in Louisiana.

What Happens if No Semen Is Found?

While finding semen is still a primary focus of any exam, advances in DNA technology mean that other genetic evidence may be collected and used. DNA evidence has to be collected within 72 hours of the attack.

Swabs from areas of the body the attacker may have touched, kissed or bitten, fingernail clippings in case the victim has managed to collect any DNA under their nails, and the collection of scalp and pubic hair are all potential sources of evidence that may help identify and convict a rapist.

The Takeaway

Rape is an abhorrent crime, and the post-attack process of examination and questioning can be intrusive. However, this process plays an essential part in trying to find the attacker and bring them to justice.

If you have been affected by rape or sexual assault, contact Lamothe Law Firm to arrange an appointment to discuss your case in an empathic and understanding manner.

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