A sexual assault evidence collection kit
, sexual assault forensic evidence (SAFE) kit
or Sexual Offense Evidence Collection (SOEC) kit
in New York
is a set of items used by medical personnel for gathering and preserving physical evidence following a sexual assault
which can be used in criminal proceedings. The kit was developed by Louis R. Vitullo
and was for years referred to as the Vitullo kit
The term applies also to the collected evidence for a specific case.
Beginning in 2009, states in the US will have to pay for "Jane Doe rape kits," also known as anonymous rape tests.
For a sexual assault evidence collection kit to be the most useful the victim should go to the hospital immediately following the attack. Changing clothes or bathing may result in destroying viable evidence. It is a victim's right to refuse to participate in any part of the evidence collection process, regardless of what stage the procedure is in. However, a sexual assault kit is the victim's best way to document the attack and help ensure prosecution of the attacker. The victim's informed consent is necessary for a kit to be used. This evidence retrieval and exam could take up to four hours to complete.
A sexual assault evidence collection kit contains commonly available examination tools such as:
- Detailed instructions for the examiner
- Forms for documentation
- Tube for blood sample
- Urine sample container
- Paper bags for clothing collection
- Large sheet of paper for patient to undress over
- Cotton swabs for biological evidence collection
- Sterile water
- Sterile saline
- Glass slides
- Unwaxed dental floss
- Wooden stick for fingernail scrapings
- Envelopes or boxes for individual evidence samples
Other items needed for a forensic/medical exam and treatment that may not be included in the rape kit are:
- Woods lamp
- Toluidine blue dye
- Drying rack for wet swabs and/or clothing
- Patient gown, cover sheet, blanket, pillow
- Needles/syringes for blood drawing
- Post-It Notes used to collect trace evidence
- Camera (35 mm, digital, or Polaroid), film, batteries
- Medscope and/or colcoscope
- Acetic acid diluted spray
- Clean clothing and shower/hygiene items for the victim's use after the exam
"Jane Doe" sexual assault exam kits
Sexual assault exam kits are now made available to women anonymously, allowing women to have hair, semen or other samples from men collected and placed in numbered, sealed envelopes. This is done at no charge and without the requirement to notify authorities or press charges. A clinical director for a US rape and sexual assault counseling program said that it is crucial for women to have the option of keeping police away from the case until they are ready to press charges.
Evidence collection in the United States
In the United States, a typical evidence collection process for sexual assault victims is:
- A nurse, physician, physician assistant - any medical provider explains the hospital's HIV testing procedure and why HIV testing is beneficial. The victim then decides whether or not to permit HIV testing. In many states, there is no charge to the victim for these services.
- Routine blood collection is done (to check for pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases).
- The nurse documents any evidence of torn clothing or external injuries and takes photographs.
- The victim's clothing is collected and new clothes are provided.
- Any physical evidence from the rape scene (such as grass or leaves) is also collected.
- Hairs are collected: the nurse collects any loose hairs or debris in the pelvic area (looking for pubic hairs of the assailant). In some cases, some of the victim's pubic hairs are needed and 15-20 of the victim's head hairs (to differentiate the victim's hairs from the assailant's).
- Fingernail scrapings are collected for detection of blood or tissue.
- The nurse then examines the victim's perineum, thighs, abdomen, buttocks and facial area for evidence of semen and, if detected, it is collected.
- Several slides are made and swabs taken from the vaginal, anal, and oral areas to check for semen, sexually transmitted diseases, and infections.
- The hospital provides the victim with any preventive medicine necessary (for tetanus, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, etc.).
- Medical personnel perform the pelvic exam. The victim may request to have the examination done by a person of the same gender.
The sexual assault exam kit is then sealed in a box and secured at the hospital until given to the police for further laboratory analysis. For the box to be used in criminal proceedings, it is vital that the chain of custody and the integrity of the kit is preserved.
When a sexual assault exam kit would not be used
In the U.S. each state has their own laws regarding how long after an assault evidence can be collected. For example, in Massachusetts the survivor has 5 days during which he or she can go to a hospital for the evidence collection procedure. In some states, however, the deadline is placed at 72 hours. New studies have found motile sperm in consensual sexual partners up to 120 hours following sexual intercourse. Accordingly, some sexual assault forensic examination programs have increased the time frame for conducting an examination. Outside of these windows, it is less likely that evidence would still be present on the survivor. However, evidence may still be gathered by documenting any findings obtained during the medical examination (such as bruises or lacerations), photographs and bite mark impressions (if appropriate), and securing statements made by the survivor about the assault.