How Rape Kits Work

An essential tool for collecting evidence after a sexual assault

A rape kit is a medical kit used to collect evidence from the body and clothing of someone who has been the victim of a rape or other kind of sexual assault. This kit typically contains bags and paper sheets, a comb, documentation forms, envelopes, instructions, materials for blood samples, and swabs.

Patient clasped hands talking to doctor
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How Rape Kits Are Used

A rape kid contains a variety of swabs that are used on the genitalia, cervix, and the inside of the mouth to collect bodily fluids such as saliva and semen, which can help identify the perpetrator of the rape. The kit is also used to gather and store fibers from clothing and hair. All together, this evidence may eventually be used to prosecute a rapist.

After this initial collection of forensic evidence, a blood test is done. These blood tests are conducted in order to check for pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases and infections. Samples of cervical tissue are also taken and sent for laboratory analysis.

You’ll need to see your own healthcare provider sometime within the two weeks following your emergency room visit to review the results of these tests. Your healthcare provider will then prescribe treatment for any positive results revealed by these lab tests.

The Importance of Forensic Exams

Many victims of sexual assault are wary about seeking out medical attention after their attack. They might feel frightened or ashamed, and may not wish to subject themselves to the invasive nature of the evidence collection process.

Still, if you have experienced a sexual assault, it is important to undergo this forensic exam. Even if you choose not to report your assault, you may change your mind later. The existence of a rape kit ensures that any necessary evidence is preserved in case this happens. Your exam will also provide you with important medical care.

Preserving Evidence

In order to ensure that all essential evidence is preserved, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) recommends that you avoid, if at all possible, showering, bathing, using the restroom, changing clothes, combing your hair, or cleaning the area where the attack occurred.

While it's natural to want to remove all signs of the attack that occurred, taking care to preserve all possible evidence will make it more likely that, if you do decide to file a report and press charges, justice can be served.

Keep in mind that DNA evidence generally needs to be collected within 72 hours of the incident.

RAINN also provides a directory of sexual assault service providers on which you can search for a medical professional who offers the forensic evidence exam you need, in addition to other services such as individual and group counseling, support groups, legal advocacy, and more.

By Tracee Cornforth
Tracee Cornforth is a freelance writer who covers menstruation, menstrual disorders, and other women's health issues.