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MEDICAL SERVICES

Advocacy & Exams

If the survivor chooses, the Center has a trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Coordinator on staff that can perform a medical forensic exam (rape kit) to collect evidence to be stored by law enforcement. Below are some frequently asked questions about exams.

Advocates are also available to support survivors during the exam if the survivor chooses.  Advocates and SANEs are both able to answer questions about the exam.

Seeking medical care is important, regardless of whether you choose to report the assault to your local law enforcement.  You CAN receive medical care for a sexual assault WITHOUT reporting the assault to law enforcement if you are over the age of 16.  You can also receive a medical forensic examination for a sexual assault WITHOUT health insurance. Georgia law (O.C.G.A. 17-5-72) states that a victim has the right to a medical forensic examination regardless of whether they participate in the criminal justice system or cooperate with law enforcement.  Further, the victim shall not be required in Georgia (O.C.G.A. 17-5-72) or Alabama (§ 15-23-5 (24)) to pay, directly or indirectly, for the cost of the exam.  The Alabama Crime Victims Compensation Commission or the Georgia Crime Victims Compensation Program should be billed directly for all expenses related to a forensic medical examination (where the crime occurred).


Medical attention may include a physical exam to gather evidence, treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and other medication as necessary.  You can choose to receive care from the Center or a local hospital. You may call 911 to transport you to the nearest hospital for medical clearance before the exam at the Center.  You may also choose to utilize your local health department or private physician for follow-up care and testing. If you suspect you may have been drugged, be sure to inform your care provider and request that tests be run on your urine sample.

WHAT IS A MEDICAL FORENSIC EXAMINATION (RAPE KIT)?

DNA evidence from a crime like sexual assault can be collected from the crime scene, but it can also be collected from your body, clothes, and other personal belongings. You may choose to have a sexual assault forensic exam, sometimes known as a “rape kit,” to preserve possible DNA evidence and receive important medical care. You don’t have to report the crime to have an exam, but the process gives you the chance to safely store evidence should you decide to report at a later time.

This information has been provided by RAINNGNESA, and the Center.

WHAT IS A RAPE KIT?

You may have heard the term “rape kit” to refer to a sexual assault forensic exam. The term rape kit actually refers to the kit itself—a container that includes a checklist, materials, and instructions, along with envelopes and containers to package any specimens collected during the exam. A rape kit may also be referred to as a Sexual Assault Evidence Kit (SAEK). The contents of the kit vary by state and jurisdiction and may include:

  • Bags and paper sheets for evidence collection

  • Comb

  • Documentation forms

  • Envelopes

  • Instructions

  • Materials for blood samples

  • Swabs

PREPARING FOR A SEXUAL ASSAULT FORENSIC EXAM:

If you are able to, try to avoid activities that could potentially damage evidence such as:

  • Bathing

  • Showering

  • Using the restroom

  • Changing clothes

  • Combing hair

  • Cleaning up the area

It’s natural to want to go through these motions after a traumatic experience. Even if you have done any of these activities, you can still have an exam performed. Evidence may still be able to be collected. You may want to bring a spare change of clothes with you to the hospital or health facility where you’re going to have the exam.  If you are not able to, the Center can provide a change of clothing for you.

The national guideline from the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN) recommends collection of forensic evidence within 120 hours/5 days.  This is the time period that the Georgia Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit utilizes for collection of evidence if the crime occurred in Georgia.  If the crime occurred in Alabama, the time period for collection is 72 hours. Place your belongings, including the clothes you were wearing, in a paper bag to safely preserve evidence if you are able to do so. 

HOW LONG IS THE EXAM?

The length of the exam may take a few hours, but the actual time will vary based on several different factors. It may be helpful to have someone to support you during this time. The Center can provide an advocate to accompany and support you through this examination as well. Be aware that if you invite someone other than an advocate into the exam room, they could be called as a witness if you decide to report the crime.

WHAT HAPPENS DURING A SEXUAL ASSAULT FORENSIC EXAM?

The steps below outline the general process for the exam. Remember, you can stop, pause, or skip a step at any time during the exam. It is entirely your choice.

  • Immediate care. If you have injuries that need immediate attention, those will be taken care of first.

  • History. You will be asked about your current medications, pre-existing conditions, and other questions pertaining to your health history. Some of the questions, such as those about recent consensual sexual activity, may seem very personal, but these questions are designed to ensure that DNA and other evidence collected from the exam can be connected to the perpetrator. You will also be asked about the details of what has happened to you to help identify all potential areas of injury as well as places on your body or clothes where evidence may be located.

  • Head-to-toe examination. This part of the exam may be based on your specific experience, which is why it is important to give an accurate history. It may include a full body examination, including internal examinations of the mouth, vagina, and/or anus. It may also include taking samples of blood, urine, swabs of body surface areas, and sometimes hair samples. The trained professional performing the exam may take pictures of your body to document injuries and the examination. With your permission, they may also collect items of clothing, including undergarments. Any other forms of physical evidence that are identified during the examination may be collected and packaged for analysis, such as a torn piece of the perpetrator’s clothing, a stray hair, or debris.

  • Possible mandatory reporting. If you are a minor, the person performing the exam may be obligated to report it to law enforcement. 

  • Follow up care. You may be offered prevention treatment for STIs and other forms of medical care that require a follow up appointment with a medical professional. Depending on the circumstances and where you live, the exam site may schedule a follow up appointment, or you can ask about resources in your community that offer follow up care for survivors of sexual assault. 

WHO CAN PERFORM THE EXAM?

At the Center, a trained SANE performs the medical forensic exam. 

  • Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) — registered nurses who receive specialized education and fulfill clinical requirements to perform the exam.

WHY SHOULD YOU CONSIDER HAVING A SEXUAL ASSAULT MEDICAL FORENSIC EXAM?

  • It won’t cost you. You should not be charged for the exam. The Violence Against Women Act (See Georgia Code O.C.G.A. 17-5-52 and Alabama Code § 15-23-5 (24)) requires states to provide sexual assault forensic exams free of charge if they wish to remain eligible for critical anti-crime grant funding. If you are charged for the exam, immediately contact the Center.  If the exam is performed at the Center, you will never receive a bill.

  • You can have time to decide if you want to report. The decision to report the crime is entirely yours. It may take some time to decide what to do. Having a sexual assault forensic exam ensures that the forensic evidence will be safely preserved if you decide to report at a later time.

  • It increases the likelihood of prosecution. The importance of DNA evidence in sexual assault cases cannot be overstated. Not only does DNA evidence carry weight in court, but it may prevent future sexual assaults from occurring. Even if the perpetrator is not prosecuted, their DNA may be added to the national database, making it easier to connect the perpetrator to a future crime.

  • Your health matters. Sexual assault can affect your physical health. You may have injuries and trauma related to the assaults that aren’t immediately visible. During an exam you may be able to access treatment for these injuries, receive preventative treatment for STIs, and obtain emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy.  In the event that the hospital does not provide emergency contraception or you cannot afford prescriptions that may be prescribed to you, the Center can help with obtaining the contraception and the financial costs of the prescriptions.

HOW LONG WILL THE EVIDENCE BE STORED?

In Georgia, law enforcement must take possession of the evidence no later than 96 hours after being notified. Within 30 days of taking possession of the evidence, the law enforcement agency must submit it to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (O.C.G.A. §35-1-2: when a victim has requested that law enforcement officials be notified, the SANE performing the forensic medical examination, or his or her designee, shall notify the appropriate law enforcement agency that evidence has been collected. The law enforcement agency must take possession of the evidence no later than 96 hours after being notified. Within 30 days of taking possession of the evidence, the law enforcement agency must submit it to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which is responsible for testing the evidence for purposes of identifying the perpetrator).

According to Georgia law (O.C.G.A. 17-5-71), the investigating law enforcement agency is required to maintain any physical evidence relating to a sexual assault for up to 50 years after the report of the assault.  However, if the victim does not cooperate with law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of the case, then the investigating agency is only required to maintain the evidence for not less than 12 months from the date of collection.

In Alabama, there are no current statutes for mandated testing of kits or a time period where law enforcement must collect the kits from the examination establishment.  For additional information about Alabama legislation on rape kits, please visit End The Backlog.

GNESA also has a document regarding medical forensic examination protocol. 

FAQ

WHAT IS A MEDICAL FORENSIC EXAM (RAPE KIT)?

You may have heard the term “rape kit” to refer to a sexual assault forensic exam. The term rape kit actually refers to the kit itself—a container that includes a checklist, materials, and instructions, along with envelopes and containers to package any specimens collected during the exam. A rape kit may also be referred to as a Sexual Assault Evidence Kit (SAEK). The contents of the kit vary by state and jurisdiction and may include:

  • Bags and paper sheets for evidence collection

  • Comb

  • Documentation forms

  • Envelopes

  • Instructions

  • Materials for blood samples

  • Swabs

WILL THE EXAM COST ME?

No.  As per Georgia code O.C.G.A. § 17-5-72: the victim shall have the right to have a forensic medical examination regardless of whether the victim participates in the criminal justice system or cooperates with law enforcement in pursuing prosecution of the underlying crime. A victim shall not be required to pay, directly or indirectly, for the cost of a forensic medical examination in Georgia or Alabama (§ 15-23-5 (24)). The cost of a forensic medical examination shall be paid for by the Alabama Crime Victims Compensation Commission or the Georgia Crime Victims Emergency Fund, as provided for in Chapter 15 (Georgia) of this title.

DO I HAVE TO REPORT TO LAW ENFORCEMENT TO HAVE AN EXAM COMPLETED?

No. As per Georgia Code O.C.G.A. § 17-5-72, the victim shall have the right to have a forensic medical examination regardless of whether the victim participates in the criminal justice system or cooperates with law enforcement in pursuing prosecution of the underlying crime. A victim shall not be required to pay, directly or indirectly, for the cost of a forensic medical examination. The cost of a forensic medical examination shall be paid for by the Georgia Crime Victims Emergency Fund, as provided for in Chapter 15 of this title.

There are no current statutes in Alabama where a survivor must report to law enforcement to have an exam completed. This may vary by jurisdiction, circuits, or law enforcement agencies.

DOES THE EXAM HURT?

The exam may be based on your specific experience, which is why it is important to give an accurate history. It may include a full body examination, including internal examinations of the mouth, vagina, and/or anus. It may also include taking samples of blood, urine, swabs of body surface areas, and sometimes hair samples. The trained professional performing the exam may take pictures of your body to document injuries and the examination. There may be moments where they exam may be possibly uncomfortable due to injuries, but SANEs are trained to collect evidence with consideration and respect to any possible injuries. Keep in mind, at any point during the exam if a survivor wants to skip any portion of the exam or stop completely, that is completely up to the survivor.

DO I HAVE TO HAVE AN EXAM?

No.  The exam is completely a survivor's choice. The Center can still provide services to survivors regardless if an exam is performed or not.  You also do not have to have an exam completed to report to law enforcement.

WHAT ABOUT MY CLOTHING I WAS WEARING?

With the survivor's permission, clothing or other items may be collected for forensic testing by the SANE to provide to law enforcement for to be stored (if not reporting right away) or to test. If you are able to, place the clothing or items in a brown paper bag.  Plastic bags can degrade evidence.

 

Forensic Medical Suite Ribbon Cutting

Aug. 26, 2020

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