Rape Kit Laws

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 What Is a Rape Kit?

A rape kit is a package of items used by medical personnel for gathering and preserving physical evidence following an allegation of sexual assault. The evidence collected from the victim can aid the criminal rape investigation and the prosecution of a suspected assailant.

A rape kit may include:

  • Bags and paper sheets for evidence collection;
  • Comb;
  • Documentation forms;
  • Envelopes;
  • Instructions;
  • Materials for blood samples;
  • Swabs.

A rape kit may also be referred to as a Sexual Assault Evidence Kit (SAEK), a Sexual Assault Forensic Exam (SAFE), or a Physical Evidence Recovery Kit (PERK).

What Are Rape Kit Laws?

Rape kit laws are laws that regulate the collection, testing, storage, and disposal of rape kits. Rape kit laws may vary by state and jurisdiction, but they generally aim to:

  • Ensure that victims of sexual assault have access to a free and timely rape kit exam;
  • Establish standards and protocols for the performance and documentation of the rape kit exam;
  • Require law enforcement agencies to submit rape kits to crime labs for testing within a certain time frame;
  • Prevent the backlog or destruction of untested or unprocessed rape kits;
  • Protect the privacy and rights of victims regarding their rape kits; and
  • Provide victims with information and notification about their rape kits.

Rape kits are considered admissible evidence in court if they are collected, tested, and preserved in accordance with the relevant laws and procedures. Rape kits can provide forensic evidence that can:

  • Identify the assailant through DNA matching;
  • Corroborate the victim’s account of the assault;
  • Establish the use of force or violence;
  • Exclude or exonerate a suspect; and
  • Reveal serial offenders through DNA matches across cases.

What Is the Rape Kit Used For?

Rape kits are used for the purpose of collecting and preserving physical evidence from the victim’s body, clothes, and personal belongings after a rape or sexual assault. Rape kits are used to:

  • Provide medical care and treatment to the victim;
  • Document any injuries or trauma to the victim;
  • Obtain DNA samples from the victim and the assailant;
  • Collect other types of forensic evidence, such as hair, fibers, semen, saliva, or blood; and
  • Preserve the evidence for future testing or analysis.

Rape kits are an important tool for investigating and prosecuting sexual assault cases. They can help to identify, convict, or exonerate suspects, as well as to support the victim’s recovery and justice.

Who Performs the Rape Kit Exam?

If you have been sexually assaulted, you may choose to have a rape kit exam performed at a hospital or health facility that offers this service. You do not have to report the crime to have a rape kit exam, but having one can help you preserve evidence in case you decide to report later. You can also contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or talk to your local sexual assault service provider for more information and support.

How Long Does It Take To Complete a Rape Kit?

The time it takes to complete a rape kit exam may vary depending on several factors, such as the type and extent of the evidence collected, the availability and skill of the examiner, and the cooperation and comfort of the victim. However, a general estimate is that a rape kit exam can take anywhere from two to six hours.

How Should I Prepare for a Rape Kit Examination?

To prepare for a rape kit exam, you should try to avoid any activities that could potentially damage or destroy evidence, such as:

  • Bathing;
  • Showering;
  • Using the restroom;
  • Changing clothes;
  • Combing hair;
  • Cleaning up the area.

It is understandable that you may want to do some of these things after a traumatic experience, but they could wash away or remove important traces of DNA or other evidence from your body or clothing. If you have done any of these activities, you can still have a rape kit exam, but it may affect the quality or quantity of the evidence collected.

You should also try to preserve any evidence that you have on your body, clothes, or personal belongings by placing them in a paper bag (not plastic) and bringing them with you to the exam.

This may include items such as:

  • Underwear;
  • Tampons or pads;
  • Condoms or wrappers;
  • Sheets or blankets;
  • Tissues or napkins.

You may also want to bring a spare change of clothes with you to the exam, as your clothes may be kept as evidence. You may also want to bring someone you trust, such as a friend, family member, or advocate, to support you during the exam. However, be aware that they may be called as a witness if you decide to report the crime.

A rape kit exam can be a difficult and invasive process, but it can also provide important medical care and legal evidence for your case. You have the right to choose whether or not to have a rape kit exam, and you can stop or skip any part of the exam at any time. You also have the right to choose whether or not to report the crime or pursue legal action against your assailant.

What Happens to the Kit After It Is Completed?

After a rape kit exam is completed, the kit is sealed and labeled with identifying information and a barcode. The kit is then transferred to a secure storage facility, such as a police evidence room, a hospital, or a rape crisis center. The kit may remain in storage until it is requested for testing by law enforcement or the prosecutor.

The testing of a rape kit involves sending the kit to a crime lab, where forensic analysts examine the samples and extract DNA profiles from them. The DNA profiles are then compared to the DNA profiles of the victim, the suspect (if known), and the National DNA Database (CODIS) to look for matches. The results of the testing are then reported back to law enforcement or the prosecutor, who may use them to identify, arrest, or prosecute the perpetrator.

The time it takes to test a rape kit may vary depending on several factors. These factors include the availability and capacity of the crime lab, the priority and complexity of the case, and the quality and quantity of the evidence. However, a general estimate is that it can take anywhere from 30 days to several months or even years to test a rape kit.

The storage and testing of rape kits are regulated by different laws and policies in different states and jurisdictions. Some states have laws that require law enforcement to submit rape kits to crime labs for testing within a certain time frame, such as 30 or 60 days.

Some states also have laws that require law enforcement to notify victims about the status and results of their rape kits. However, some states do not have any laws or policies regarding the storage or testing of rape kits, leaving it up to the discretion of law enforcement or prosecutors.

The lack of consistent and comprehensive laws and policies regarding rape kits has resulted in a large backlog of untested or unprocessed rape kits across the country. The backlog refers to two main sources:

  • Evidence that was never sent to the crime lab: In some cases, law enforcement or prosecutors do not request DNA analysis of rape kits, leaving them in storage indefinitely. This is sometimes referred to as the “hidden backlog.”
  • Evidence that arrived at the crime lab but was never tested: In some cases, the volume of untested DNA evidence exceeds the resources or capacity of the crime lab, leading to delays or backlogs in testing.

The backlog of untested rape kits poses a serious problem for victims of sexual assault and public safety, as it prevents justice from being served and allows perpetrators to remain free and potentially commit more crimes. Several efforts have been made to address and eliminate the backlog, such as:

  • Conducting audits and inventories of untested rape kits;
  • Securing federal and state funding for testing rape kits;
  • Implementing reforms and standards for collecting, storing, tracking, and testing rape kits;
  • Providing training and resources for law enforcement, prosecutors, and forensic analysts; and
  • Engaging survivors and advocates in policy-making and advocacy.

If you have had a rape kit exam and want to know what happened to your kit or what your rights are regarding your kit, you can contact your local law enforcement agency or sexual assault service provider for more information. You can also visit endthebacklog.org for more resources and updates on rape kit laws and policies in your state.

Do I Need a Lawyer if I Need to Undergo a Rape Kit Examination?

You do not need a lawyer if you need to undergo a rape kit examination, but you may benefit from having one if you decide to report the crime or pursue legal action against your assailant. A lawyer can help you with your case by:

  • Advising you on your legal rights and options;
  • Gathering evidence and witnesses to support your claim;
  • Negotiating with the prosecutor or defense attorney for a favorable outcome; and
  • Representing you in court and advocating for your best interests.

Finding a lawyer who has experience with sexual assault cases can be easy with LegalMatch. LegalMatch is a free online service that connects you with qualified lawyers in your area who are ready to take your case. You can compare their profiles, reviews, fees, and availability and choose the best one for you.

Don’t wait any longer to get legal help for your sexual assault case. Find a criminal lawyer near you today with LegalMatch.


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