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Procedures of a SAFE Exam Following a Sexual Assault

April 27th, 2009 - Comments Off

Whenever a victim is raped and reports the sexual assault to police, a sexual assault forensic evidence (SAFE) examination is done. This is sometimes known as a rape kit or rape exam. A SAFE exam should be done as soon as possible after the crime was committed. It is unfortunate that the victim, suffering from psychological trauma, may wait days, months, or even years before reporting it to local authorities. Rape is so serious for the victim that it carries a plethora of emotions and social baggage that no other crime comes close to matching. Victims often feel shame and guilt and want to avoid the feeling of social stigmatization.

If the crime of rape occurs, the victim should be checked out by a medical doctor with training in conducting SAFE exams or a specially trained nurse. If possible, a female law enforcement agent should be present to maintain the chain of custody.

What is involved in a SAFE exam?

  1. The doctor or nurse examines the victim’s entire body, including the groin for evidence of trauma such as bumps, abrasions, or cuts, carefully making note and photographing each.
  2. The victim’s hands are examined for nail clippings and scrapings. The assailant’s hair, blood, or skin tissues can be found in the victim’s hands or underneath the fingernails.
  3. Bite marks are photographed and swabbed for saliva, which may contain biological evidence.
  4. Any stains found on the victim are also swabbed because they may yield more saliva or semen.
  5. The attending physician gets vaginal, anal, and oral swabs from the victim to check for DNA.
  6. The victim’s pubic hair is combed for foreign fibers and hairs.
  7. If there are stains found on the victim’s clothing, samples are taken, and the clothing is packaged up and sent to a crime lab for further analysis.

Even if there is no sign of trauma found, the examining doctor looks for signs that sexual intercourse occurred. When he takes a closer look at vaginal fluids, he can run several laboratory tests. One of those tests is called an acid phosphatase test, which tests for the presence of this enzyme in large quantities of semen. This could slam dunk a case and make the perpetrator look bad if this test turns out positive. He can also run a P30 immunodiffusion test which tests for the presence of a semen-specific glycoprotein. This evidence can be used against the culprit in court.

When the crime of rape occurs, these procedures should be followed in order to bring the perpetrator to justice.

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