Medical Help and Rape Kit Examination
After a sexual assault you may be hurt or at risk for pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted infections. You can go to an emergency room of a hospital or health clinic for treatment. If you have no injuries and only want reproductive health services such as STI testing and emergency contraception services, you can go to a clinic or doctor. For a list of emergency contraception distributors call the Emergency contraception hotline number (800) 584-9911.
Rape Kit Examination
A sexual assault evidence kit ("rape kit") examination is usually performed in a hospital setting by a nurse or doctor. The examination is for evidence collection purposes, and is meant to be separate from any medical care given to you. Hospitals should treat your medical needs first, and then move on to the rape kit examination. The examination can be a lengthy process, and often takes 4-6 hours to complete. The nurse or doctor will be looking for DNA evidence on your body that can help identify your rapist, confirm the presence of a known suspect, and/or confirm your version of events and discredit the suspect. They will swab the areas of your body where you have indicated the perpetrator penetrated, ejaculated, licked, or touched you. They are looking for semen, saliva, blood, and skin cells from the perpetrator because all of those deposits can be tested for DNA. They may also take photos of your injuries and may use a special microscopic camera (called a colposcope) to take photos of the inside of your vaginal and anal areas to document tearing and redness or other signs of forced penetration. The examination can be uncomfortable, painful, and difficult. You can ask to have a loved one in the room with you. You can also ask to have a rape victim's advocate help you through the process. Some hospitals employ nurses specially trained in rape kit examination evidence collection, called SANE or SAFE nurses. You can ask if the hospital has a SANE nurse on staff, and, if so, may wish to request they perform the examination. They are trained to make the evidence collection experience as compassionate, accurate, and effective as possible.
States are obligated to cover the cost of a rape kit examination. If you mistakenly receive a bill from the hospital for your rape kit examination, you should contact a victim advocate and they can help you resolve the error. Some states allow law enforcement to ask the victim to bill their insurance for the cost of the rape kit, but you have the right to refuse to do so, and the state must find another way to cover the cost.
If you have been sexually assaulted, you can call the police and make a report. A detective will be assigned to your case, and the police may then look for and /or arrest the perpetrator. Even if no arrest is made you will become eligible for victims of crime compensation after the report is made. The detective on your case should give you his direct contact information. If he does not, you can ask him or her for it.
Accessing information about your rape kit and your case
In a best-case scenario, the detective on your case will keep you updated on any developments in your case. Sometimes, victims do not hear from the police after they made the report. This does not necessarily mean the police are not investigating your case, but it can be hard not to know what is going on. Unfortunately, there are very few requirements that law enforcement keep a victim informed about the status of their rape case. If you have not heard anything about your case, you can call the detective on your case for updates. If you want help navigating this process, a victim's advocate can be a helpful conduit between you and the police. It can be difficult to be your own advocate for your case.
Although you don't have an explicit "right" to get information about your case, there is no law that prohibits you from contacting the police and requesting information about your case, including information about your rape kit, if one was collected. Your detective should know the status of your rape kit-whether it is in police storage, whether it was sent to the crime lab, and, if so, what the test results showed, or whether it was destroyed without testing it. Your victim advocate can also help you find this information out from your detective. If the rape kit was sent to the laboratory, your detective can place a call to inquire about whether the rape kit is still waiting for testing, or whether it has already been tested.
If the detective does not give you answers about your case and your rape kit after repeated attempts, and you wish to find out more about the status of the investigation, you may wish to file a public records request. Every state law is different, so you should consult your state's law before you file. A public records request can be a simple, one page letter to the police department that handled your case, that states your name, the case file number, and your connection to the case you are requesting information about. State that you want "any and all records and documentation" involving your case number, and, for extra emphasis, list the kinds of records you are particularly interested in (for example, "any documentation regarding the status of the sexual assault evidence collection kit"). These records requests are a way for you to learn more about your case, especially in instances where communication from law enforcement has not been as clear or comprehensive as you needed or wanted.
If there is enough evidence the city or district attorney may file misdemeanor or felony charges against the perpetrator. If the city of district attorney does not file a charge, that does not mean that what happened to you was not sexual assault, it just means that they do not feel they have the evidence needed to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This can be very disappointing, but please remember to be proud that you chose to take care of yourself by engaging the process in the first place. That choice can be a first step to reclaim one's sense of possibility and justice.
You have the right to sue the perpetrator or anyone who aided in commission of the sexual assault for damages. If you feel that your case was mishandled, you may also be able bring a civil suit against that entity. These cases can be very difficult to win, but it is an option.
Anyone that has experienced sexual assault is likely to feel alone, sad, fearful, angry or overwhelmed at times. The intensity of feeling can seem unmanageable, and are only compounded when the criminal justice process is not working at adequate capacity. No one can or should have to go through this process alone, accessing emotional support can be immeasurably helpful. Just as your rape kit deserves to be respected and honored, so do your emotional needs.
Please find some options for emotional support below. These options may not have any impact on legal proceedings, but they can impact your emotional state and ability to manage the stress associated with the proceedings.
Sexual Assault Hotlines
People who have been trained in and are knowledgeable about sexual abuse staff rape hotlines. Hotline staff can help you work out your feelings and decide what is best for you. Hotlines can be especially useful during times when other sources of support are unavailable, such as late at night after a nightmare, flashback, or intrusive thought. Hotlines can also be a first step in connecting with other community resources. Medical and counseling referrals are also provided. Rape hotlines are accessible 24 hours a day and are anonymous and confidential. The National Sexual Assault Hotline number is (800) 656-4673 the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline can be accessed at www.rainn.org.
Counseling can help you process your feelings and identify strategies for managing trauma reactions, including feelings of helplessness, anxiety, and depression. This counseling can be either short or long term and is specifically designed for survivors of sexual assault. Fees can be free or negotiable. Call a rape hotline for a referral.
Some counseling centers offer support groups for sexual assault survivors where they can meet and talk to other survivors. Many people find these groups helpful as a way to decrease feelings of isolation and build a supportive community.
Friends and Family
Friends and family can be an excellent source for emotional support. Obviously, this varies case by case and you are in the best position to decide who makes you feel most comfortable. In many cases, friends and family want to be supportive, but don't always know how to go about doing so. You can exercise your self-care muscles and help others at the same time by asking for the kind of support that you need.
Even if you chose not to talk about the assault and related issues, spending social or recreational time with people you care about and who care about you can be healing. It is those human connections that help resolve the disconnection cause by trauma.