Heard about the backlog of “rape kits” in the news? Want to know why all the fuss? Learn about the importance of SANE exams.
The rates of sexual assault in the United States are staggeringly high. On average there are 321, 500 victims (ages 12 or older) each year in the United States. 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men have been the victim of a rape or attempted rape during their lifetimes. Even though rape is one of the most violent and devastating crimes it is also one of the most under-reported crimes. Only 5 out of 1,000 rapists will end up in prison. The first step is reporting the sexual assault. The 3 main reasons for failing to report a sexual assault are (1) a fear of retaliation, (2) a belief the police would not do anything to help the situation, and (3) a belief that the victim was somehow fully or partially responsible for the crime.
If you have been the victim of a sexual assault and are hesitant to report the crime to the police, it is still essential that you find a location that conducts a SANE exam so that you can be medically treated and evidence can be collected and preserved for trial. A SANE examiner (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) is a registered nurse who has completed specialized education and clinical preparation in the medical forensic care of a sexual assault victim. The following criteria must be met for a SANE exam to be performed: (1) the assault must have happened within the last 120 hours; (2) the patient must be 12 years of age or older; (3) the patient must be medically cleared by the ER physician; and (4) the patient must consent to the exam and the evidence collection.
The SANE exam is a free three-part exam, consisting of:
- An interview asking you specific questions about the assault. You can tell the SANE examiner as much or as little as you want, however, the more thorough you are, the more helpful your interview will be for finding the perpetrator and/or convicting him or her at trial.
- A physical examination, which may include emergency contraception and antibiotics. For females, the SANE exam is very similar to a well-woman check. Swabs will be obtained from the pelvic region and a speculum exam is conducted if necessary. The SANE examiner also looks for saliva or semen on your body. The exam may also include nail clipping, hair samples and photographs, all of which are completely confidential.
- Blood and urine collection. If the interview suggests a potential drug facilitated assault, blood and urine samples will be obtained and sent with the urine kit.
The SANE exam is a crucial part of prosecuting sexual assault criminals. First, all of the forensic evidence collected during the exam can be used at trial. Second, the SANE nurse records the victim’s account of the assault during the interview and the nurse can testify during trial. That said, it is the victim’s choice to report the crime to the police. If the victim chooses not to report the crime the report kit is kept for 6 months before being destroyed if the victim is over 18. If the victim is under 18, the report is kept for 16 years.
Pending before the Oklahoma legislature right now are several bills regarding sexual assault and rape kits (the product of SANE exams). If these issues are of interest to you, pay attention as the legislative session gets underway shortly. Legislators may need to hear from survivors about their experience to make informed choices for our state.
If you or someone you know has been the victim of a rape or sexual assault, you have rights within the civil legal system – in addition to your rights in the criminal justice system. Contact Koller Trial Law for a free consultation.