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How Reliable Are Rape Testing Kits in Sexual Abuse Cases?

Evidence gathering is an important first step in any type of criminal case. Investigators may revisit a crime scene, record witness statements, conduct interviews, or gather evidence straight from victims in an effort to identify and/or build a case against a perpetrator. One of the most common tools in evidence collection in a sexual abuse case is the “rape kit.” A rape kit aims to collect DNA evidence from the victim that could incriminate the perpetrator. Many victims wonder, however: “Just how reliable are rape testing kits?”

What’s in a Rape Test Kit?

If you hear the term “rape kit,” investigators are referring to a box of supplies that contains the tools necessary to conduct a sexual assault forensic exam. Although the name may sound intimidating, the goal of the rape kit is to help sexual abuse victims. Rape kits contain instructions for examiners on how to collect and package specimens in a way that protects any DNA from the perpetrator. They can collect key DNA evidence that ultimately helps police find and arrest the offender. The typical rape kit like as described on Rainn.org contains the following equipment:

  • Checklist and instructions for the examiner and victim
  • Envelopes and bags for evidence collection
  • Materials to take blood samples
  • Swabs for DNA evidence samples
  • Comb
  • Forms for documenting the examination

A DNA forensics exam on a sexual assault victim can take a few hours to complete. It’s natural to want to be by yourself, to go home, to change your clothes, or to shower after a traumatic sexual assault incident. Going immediately to the police station and fulfilling a forensics exam, however, can be instrumental in catching the perpetrator. Do your best not to do anything that could potentially damage or destroy DNA evidence before you visit a local police station. In general, examiners must collect DNA evidence within 72 hours of the crime.

Are Rape Test Kits Reliable Sources of Evidence?

Special staff members, called Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (or Forensic Examiners), exist in certain hospitals to ensure proper execution of a rape test kit. Not all facilities have these professionals on staff. Call (800) 656-HOPE (4673) to get a list of facilities prepared to gather sexual assault evidence and give you the help you need. Having a professional carry out a rape kit evaluation can improve the accuracy and viability of test results. Completing these tests right away increases the odds of DNA collection and prosecution. It can also improve your physical health by enabling medics to diagnose injuries and trauma.

Rape kits can be integral parts of identifying assailants and bringing charges against him or her. A recent example is the arrest of the East Area Rapist in California – something that came about thanks to DNA evidence collected from rape victims. However, there is a significant backlog in rape kit analysis in the state. Each kit takes around $1,500 to process. Currently, California would need around $20 million to process all the backlogged rape test kits in the state. Still, forensics experts encourage sexual assault victims to carry through with the test kit just the same.

When completed properly and on time, a rape testing kit can collect hair, saliva, semen, or other DNA samples from the person that attacked and abused the victim. This DNA evidence could be the only thing investigators have to go on when trying to identify and track down the perpetrator. It can also serve as important evidence during an arrest and criminal charge. Just as the victims of the East Area Rapist finally have justice thanks to evidence from their rape test kits, other victims also have a hope of the same. Especially if you don’t know the identity of your perpetrator, complying with a rape testing kit could be in your best interests.

If you or someone you know was a victim of a sexual assault, please seek help somewhere. For legal council, contact the California sexual abuse attorneys at Estey & Bomberger, LLP for dedicated council about your case. Call today! (800) 925-0723

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