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Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners

Sexual assault forensic examiners are nurses, MDs, PAs and NPs with training in the collection of medical and forensic evidence. They are licensed health care providers who work on a hospital basis with patients experiencing sexual assault or rape.

SANEs use an exam kit, often called a “rape kit,” to collect possible DNA and other evidence from the victim.

Physical Examination

Survivors of sexual assault are entitled to free medical and forensic exams by trained healthcare professionals. A sexual assault forensic exam (SAFE) can collect physical evidence that may be useful in pursuing legal action against the perpetrator of the crime. SAFEs are typically performed by nurses who specialize in this area.

A forensic nurse examiner will collect your medical and assault history before beginning the examination. Then, they will perform a head-to-toe body examination to look for injuries. They will also take photos of your bruising and other evidence.

During the exam, a forensic nurse may swab areas of your body, such as your palm or inside your mouth. This will help police identify the source of any sex-related DNA found on your body or clothes, such as dried deposits of blood or semen from a sexual assault. They will also test your urine for signs of alcohol or drugs in your system. All this evidence will be collected, carefully labeled and stored in a safe place.

Biological Examination

Under the Violence Against Women Act, all sexual assault medical forensic exams must be provided free of charge. A SANE examiner will also offer follow up prevention treatment for STIs and may provide referrals for related health care services and counseling.

Your doctor or nurse will use a “sexual assault evidence kit” (also known as a rape kit) to collect possible DNA and other biological evidence from your body or clothing. These swabs are placed in paper envelopes and sent to the lab for analysis.

The physical exam is done head to toe and includes a genital assessment. Physical findings help determine if your assault-related injuries are serious and what areas of your body should be collected for evidence. You can decline any part of the examination at any time. A thorough examination is critical to your health and safety and ensuring the best possible outcome in criminal prosecution.

Toxicology Examination

Forensic examination of victims requires a rapid response to collect evidence before it is lost through washing, bathing and urinating. The less time that passes between the date of sexual assault and a medical forensic exam, the more likely it is that evidence will be available to collect.

Sexual assault forensic examiners are nurses with advanced education and clinical preparation who specialize in forensic exams of sexual assault victims. Experienced SANEs provide compassionate care and are knowledgeable about the complexities of trauma, as well as how to document injuries and other forensic evidence.

SANEs can be helpful to survivors even if they choose not to report the crime to police. For example, a SANE can help survivors access preventative treatment for STIs and obtain emergency contraception. They can also ensure that the forensic evidence is safely preserved and will be analyzed if the victim decides to report the crime at a later time. They can even provide referrals for follow up care, including counseling.

Counseling

In addition to a medical exam, SAFEs can help victims of sexual assault deal with the emotional impact of the crime. The examiner can refer the victim to a counselor or a therapist, and can offer emergency contraception or medication to prevent STIs.

The examiner will ask you questions about the sexual assault so they know what areas of your body to swab for evidence and where any injuries may be located. With your consent, they will also take photographs of your injuries and body and comb or brush parts of your hair.

To ensure that valuable evidence is not destroyed or contaminated, it’s important to avoid showering, washing your hands, eating or drinking anything other than water and brushing your teeth until you are examined by a SAMFE/SANE-Adult/SANE-Adolescent or a physician in the hospital emergency department. GBMC offers free sexual assault forensic medical exams for adults and adolescents. These examinations are conducted by trained professionals and supported by counselors, a chaplain and social work staff.

Continue to learn more

Sexual Assault Vs Aggravated Sexual Assault: Understanding the Differences
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