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Seeking care after a sexual assault – Center for Public Integrity

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What should you do if you have been raped?

Seek medical attention as soon as possible after being raped or sexually assaulted. Receiving care from a sexual assault nurse examiner is ideal. They can conduct a sexual assault forensic exam, which can result in more thorough evidence for law enforcement and better health outcomes.

If possible, try not to change clothes, bathe/shower, comb your hair, use the bathroom, smoke or eat/drink, as these things may destroy evidence of the assault. If you have done any of these, however, you can and should still have a forensic exam performed. 

Bring a change of clothes to wear after the exam. If you’ve already changed clothes, bring what you were wearing during the assault to the exam in a bag.

How can you find a forensic nurse?

While there is no comprehensive national search tool for locating forensic nurses, here are some resources for finding help. 

Because of high program turnover, call the facility before arriving to make sure it still offers SANE services.

What happens during a forensic exam?

Forensic exams are patient-centered, so you can choose to stop, pause or skip a step at any time. You can also have an advocate present throughout. The exam may take a few hours, depending on various factors. The general process is: 

  • Immediate care of any urgent injuries.
  • A runthrough of your medical history.
  • A full body examination that may include internal examinations, blood/urine/saliva/hair samples, swabs of body surface areas, and written and photographic documentation of your injuries. 
  • Follow up care such as tests for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The SANE may want to schedule a follow up exam. They can also refer you to local advocacy and mental health resources, and inform you of your reporting options.

What are your rights as a sexual assault survivor to request appropriate care?

Under the federal Survivors’ Bill of Rights, you cannot be prevented from receiving a forensic exam. You have the right to an exam regardless of whether you report to or cooperate with law enforcement.

When is law enforcement involved?

You do not have to report a crime to the police to receive a forensic exam. SANEs are trained to discuss your reporting options and inform you of relevant state laws.

You can choose to involve the police later or not at all. Besides providing necessary medical care, the exam process gives you a chance to collect evidence should you decide to report at a later time.

Health care workers are mandated to report cases involving patients who are minors, elders or persons with disabilities. Some states have mandatory reporting requirements that go beyond this criteria, but patients still do not have to cooperate with law enforcement.

Universities may have mandatory reporting policies for school employees under the campus definition of Title IX requirements.

How much will this care cost?

Forensic exams are free nationwide, per federal law. 

If you decide to report to law enforcement, you may be eligible for victim compensation. These funds can be used for related expenses like transportation to the hospital, additional medical treatment, mental health counseling and lost wages. Information about compensation programs in each state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands can be found here.

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