Rape Kits Essay

Rape kits are sealed containers providing the necessary tools to collect and preserve physical evidence following a sexual assault. They are generally administered when the sexual assault took place no more than 72 hours prior to examination and also include forms and detailed instructions for the collection of evidence, both to ensure complete and accurate specimens and to satisfy chain of evidence requirements. Kits may be used on female, male, adult, and child victims of sexual assault. Rape kit composition and usage vary from state to state and sometimes from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. They provide valuable forensic evidence for law enforcement and the courts and in light of improved testing and use of DNA, can assist in cases that otherwise may have gone unresolved.

Most rape kits are boxes, envelopes, or bags containing a number of tools and receptacles for obtaining and storing forensic evidence. A typical kit contains detailed instructions; forms for documentation; sterile swabs for the collection of saliva, semen, and other bodily secretions; tubes, slides, or other receptacles for blood samples; sticks or similar implements for fingernail scrapings; combs for head and pubic hair; sealable envelopes for holding the collected evidence; and paper bags for the victim’s clothing. Kits may also contain brochures for the victim, providing information on her legal rights and/or a list of referrals for advocacy and other support. To maintain the proper chain of evidence, rape kits contain labels and a seal or other means of ensuring that the contents of the kit are not tampered with in any way.

In some areas, rape kits are administered by sexual assault nurse examiners, specially trained to administer the forensic examination, collect evidence, and provide comprehensive care to sexual assault survivors.

Survivors should not pay for their own rape kits. Kits are often provided by the state department of health and/or justice or by the local government in cooperation with law enforcement. Some states have created sexual assault examination payment programs, and pay for the kits through fines paid by convicted criminals.

Storage for rape kits is a critical issue. Where and for how long the kits are stored varies. Kits are often stored with local law enforcement, although in some instances hospitals store the kits. Kits may also go to a central location for DNA and other analysis. Some states have taken advantage of technological advances by creating rape kits that do not require refrigeration, thus making storage more convenient. In Iowa, state law requires that, if the victim wishes to have the evidence preserved, the kits be stored for the duration of the limitations period for criminal prosecution of sexual assault, regardless of whether the victim reports the assault.

In recent years there has been some outcry over the backlog in the analysis of rape kits and the entry of relevant data into the appropriate state DNA databases or the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI’s) national convicted criminal DNA database, the Combined DNA Index System. In some instances, sexual assault survivors have waited 6 or 7 years for the analysis of their forensic evidence. This backlog has led to multiple offenders being identified after the statute of limitations expired, thus preventing prosecution of the crime.

In all instances, victims must provide informed consent for the collection and storage of physical evidence, as well as for the release of that evidence to law enforcement. Hospital staff must take care to administer the sexual assault examination in the most respectful, least invasive manner possible and must leave all decisions regarding specimen collection, photographs, and other aspects of the health and evidentiary exam to the victim.

Bibliography:

  1. Moffeit, M., & Greene, S. (2007, July 24). Missing rape kits foil justice. The Denver Post. Retrieved from http://www.denverpost.com/2007/07/23/missing-rape-kits-foil-justice/

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