Sexual Assault Forensic Exams (SAFEs), sometimes called “rape kits”, are exams on survivors of sexual violence conducted by a specially trained nurse or physician, usually to gather any evidence of the crime that might be present. Not every assault is going to have physical evidence present, but there are other very important benefits to have a SAFE, whether it occurred less than five days ago or more than five years ago.
One of the more crucial values of these exams is the opportunity for a medical professional to see and determine if there are any injuries or issues that need to be addressed. They may also check for sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy and offer appropriate treatment and follow-up care. They can also serve to answer questions that the victim may have and offer assurances that they are healthy and that their body is normal. After the violation of a sexual assault, someone can feel that their body has betrayed them, and the reassurance that your body is okay often brings a sense of relief.
The nurse or doctor will also talk with the victim and obtain a “history”, getting details about the assault in order to guide their physical exam. However, another important aspect is that they are able to testify in court to anything that is said during the exam (should the survivor choose to move forward with criminal charges). Normally, details about a crime that are spoken by someone is called ‘hearsay’ and are not able to be relayed in a courtroom. However, information given during a SAFE is an exception to that rule and can serve as valuable evidence in a criminal proceeding.
Sexual assault survivors are entitled to have a trained advocate present during their exam. HCWC’s Hospital Emergency Advocate Response Team (HEARTeam) is certified by the Office of the Attorney General. In 2022, HCWC responded 90 times to area hospitals for emergency responses and our nursing partners conducted 26 on-site forensic exams for children at Roxanne’s House, HCWC’s Children’s Advocacy Center. If you, or someone you know has experienced sexual assault and has questions about forensic exams, please contact our advocates using our 24-hour helpline (512) 396-4357 or visit our website at www.HCWC.org for more information at www.hcwc.org.