A rape kit, also known as a sexual assault evidence kit (SAEK), is a collection of biological evidence taken from a rape or sexual abuse victim after an assault. The kit, which varies by state and situation, aids in arresting and convicting a suspect. It should be collected within 72 hours of the attack, with complete retrieval often requiring up to four hours. The victim's informed consent is necessary for a rape kit to be used.
Once the rape kit is opened, the "chain of evidence" must be maintained. Evidence cannot be left unattended. The recommended contents of a rape kit typically include: instructions and check-off sheet; large paper sheet; filter paper; small paper bags; cotton-tipped swabs; small cardboard boxes; comb; wooden splints; envelopes; red-topped and purple-topped tubes for blood sample collection; history and physical documentation forms; patient discharge information form; patient's clothing; fingernail scrapings, broken fingernail pieces; hair strands; oral swabbing; pubic hair; vaginal swabbing; vaginal washings; cervical smear; rectal swabbing; blood samples; and microscope slides.
To begin the process of collection, a nurse individually bags each article of the victim's clothing to be submitted to the investigating police officer or directly to the crime laboratory. Items of clothing are placed in paper bags, not plastic bags, as plastic may promote bacterial growth on blood or semen stains. Clothing can be collected up to one month after the assault, provided the items have not been laundered.
The pubic hair region is combed to recover any foreign hair that may have been deposited by the assailant. The comb is then placed in an envelope that is sealed and initialed. The patient is examined for visible blood or seminal stains. If the nurse observes such stains, a gauze pad is moistened, the stain is collected on the pad, the pad is allowed to air dry, and then it is placed in one of the plastic bags. The area swabbed is documented. Ten to fifteen pubic hair control samples are taken from the victim. A representative hair sample is also obtained, preferably pulled and not cut from the victim.
A set of swabs is used to prepare two vaginal and cervical smears on the microscopic slides. The speculum used to examine the cervix should be lubricated only with saline, since K-Y jelly may be spermicidal and may interfere with wet mount procedures and forensic evaluation. The slides are sprayed with a cytological fixative and allowed to air dry for three to five minutes before being labeled.
The condition of the hymen and any perineal trauma are noted. If a Wood's lamp (an ultraviolet light lamp) is available, the patient's thighs are examined for fluorescing semen stains (urine and pus may also fluoresce) and any positive areas swabbed. If genital anal contact is indicated, anal smears for sperm are collected. Lastly, a blood sample needs to be obtained from the victim for later typing.
If any blood, hair, or foreign tissue is observed on the fingernails, the nurse will scrape under the nails with the wooden splints over a clean white paper. If blood is present, the nurse will clip the nails. Oral samples are obtained by swabbing the mouth twice. Sperm have been recovered from the oral cavity up to six hours after an assault, even if the teeth were brushed or mouthwash was used. A second saliva sample is collected on the filter paper disk to determine characteristics (such as secretor status) of the victim.
Throughout the examination, the person is observed for signs of trauma outside of the genital region. The most commonly injured extragenital areas are the mouth, throat, wrist, arms, breasts, and thighs. The presence, size, and location of bruises, lacerations, bite marks, and scratches are documented. If the patient consents, the areas of trauma are photographed. If consent is refused, diagrams are used to accurately portray the physical condition of the victim.
Those responsible for collecting a rape kit are trained to recognize the psychological impact of the examination. Although the examination experience itself is generally not physically painful, it can be experienced by victims as psychologically humiliating. For many rape victims, the collection of a rape kit can be experienced as a second source of victimization.
The collection of a rape kit does not mean that the kit will be processed. Historically, many states have not possessed the financing to process every rape kit that was turned into evidence. In response, some states have changed their statute of limitations for rape prosecution, allowing for longer statutes when DNA evidence is uncovered.
see also Blood; Bloodstain evidence; Body marks; DNA databanks; DNA typing systems; Fibers; Fluorescence; Hair analysis; Physical evidence; Saliva.