I Want to Preserve Physical Evidence
DNA and other evidence from a crime like sexual assault can be collected from the crime scene, but it can also be collected from your body, clothes, and other personal belongings. You may choose to have a sexual assault forensic exam, sometimes known as a “rape kit,” to preserve possible physical evidence and receive important medical care. You don’t have to report the crime to have an exam, but the process gives you the chance to safely store evidence should you decide to report at a later time.
Only emergency room personnel can perform an Illinois State Police Evidence Collection Kit (the “rape kit”).
The steps below provide a general overview of the exam. It is within your rights to stop, pause, or skip any part of the process. Because it is often confusing to remember and assert your rights after a trauma, we recommend going to certain hospitals where an advocate will be sent to help you during your visit. Advocates are trained to answer any questions you may have and to offer support.
- Immediate care. If you have injuries that need immediate attention, those will be taken care of first.
- History. You will be asked about your current medications, pre-existing conditions, and other questions pertaining to your health history. Some of the questions, such as those about recent consensual sexual activity, may seem very personal, but these questions are designed to ensure that DNA and other evidence collected from the exam can be connected to the perpetrator. You will also be asked about the details of what has happened to you to help identify all potential areas of injury as well as places on your body or clothes where evidence may be located.
- Head-to-toe examination. This part of the exam may be based on your specific experience, which is why it is important to give an accurate history. It may include a full body examination, including internal examinations of the mouth, vagina, and/or anus. It may also include taking samples of blood, urine, swabs of body surface areas, and sometimes hair samples. The trained professional performing the exam may take pictures of your body to document injuries and the examination. With your permission, they may also collect items of clothing, including undergarments. Any other forms of physical evidence that are identified during the examination may be collected and packaged for analysis, such as a torn piece of the perpetrator’s clothing, a stray hair, or debris.
- Follow up care. You may be offered prevention treatment for STIs and other forms of medical care that require a follow up appointment with a medical professional.
There is a lot to consider when deciding to get an exam. Some important points to consider:
- You have the right to request an exam up until 7 days after an assault. The sooner after an assault occurs, the increased likelihood that evidence may be collected.
- Avoiding certain activities prior to an exam can help preserve evidence. Not bathing, changing clothes, combing hair, or going to the bathroom are among these. Note that it is natural to want to go through these motions after a trauma. If you have done any of these activities, you can still have an exam performed and evidence may still be preserved. You may want to bring a spare change of clothes with you to the hospital. If you have already changed clothes, you may want to bring the clothes you were wearing in a paper bag with you to the hospital.
You don’t have to make the decision to go to the hospital or have a forensic exam by yourself. If you have any questions or concerns, please consider reaching out to a confidential trained Loyola sexual assault advocate at 773-494-3810.
The nearest emergency room is able to provide you with medical treatment and evidence collection 24 hours a day. Due to COVID-19, only certain hospitals are providing in-person Advocates. These hospitals are Rush, Swedish Covenant, Mt. Sinai, West Suburban, Saint Mary's, and Stroger.
When you go to the emergency room and identify the reason for your visit, you have rights under Illinois law.
If you wish to go to a different hospital or one that is not in Chicago (but still in Illinois), it is important to know your rights. The following is an incomplete list of rights afforded to sexual assault survivors. For a more comprehensive list, please visit this website.
As a survivor of sexual assault, you have the right to:
- Be moved into a private space within minutes of your arrival
- Be offered an Illinois State Police Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit (ISPECK) if the sexual assault has occurred within 7 days.
- Receive medically and factually accurate oral and written information concerning pregnancy resulting from sexual assault.
- Receive medications for treatment at the hospital and after discharge. This includes, but is not limited to: HIV and STI prophylaxis (preventive treatment) as deemed appropriate by the attending physician. The patient shall receive oral and written information about all medications dispensed, possible contraindications of such medication or disease resulting from sexual assault.
Because it is often confusing to remember and assert your rights during/after a trauma, we recommend going to certain hospitals where an advocate will be sent to help you during your visit. Advocates are trained to answer any questions you may have and to offer support.
There are two primary reasons for obtaining a sexual assault forensic exam.
- Your health matters. Sexual assault can affect your physical health. You may have related injuries and trauma that aren’t immediately visible. During an exam you may be able to access treatment for these injuries and receive preventative treatment for STIs.
- It increases the likelihood of prosecution. The importance of DNA evidence in sexual assault cases cannot be overstated. DNA evidence carries weight in court, however it does not guarantee a guilty verdict. Not wanting to preserve physical evidence, or if you feel that there is not physical evidence to preserve does not disqualify you from filing a police report.
The choice to go through a forensic exam is extremely personal and there is no right or wrong answer. You are not alone and if you have any questions or concerns, please consider reaching out to a confidential trained Loyola sexual assault advocate at 773-494-3810.
Law enforcement will store the kit for a minimum of five years. In Illinois, if you are under the age of 18 at the time of the assault, the evidence must be stored until your 23rd birthday.
Hospitals in Illinois are required to notify the local police department that treatment has been given to a sexual assault survivor. However, you are not required to speak with the police but may do so if you wish.
No. You can have evidence collected and preserved without deciding to move forward with the police. The evidence can be stored for a minimum of five years or until your 23rd birthday if you are under 18 at the time of the assault in Illinois. This means that from the date of the exam, you have five years to decide if you want the evidence tested. You have more time to decide whether you want to move forward with criminal prosecution, according to the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations depends on the age you are when the assault occurs, the state where the assault took place, and the type of assault. We recognize that this can be very confusing. For more information, consider reaching out to a legal advocate.
All costs for medical services for survivors of sexual assault that are related to the assault are free and covered under Illinois law. If you are charged for the exam, immediately contact Resilience (formerly RVA).
The actual forensic exam usually takes a couple of hours but the actual length of your time in the hospital will vary depending on factors like the availability of staff and the number of emergencies in the hospital.
No. The hospital is required to keep everything you share confidential. The only exceptions to this are if they believe you are a threat to yourself, others, or if they believe any minors are at risk.