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Rape Kit Basics: Collecting Forensic Evidence

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on April 20, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In the best of worlds we would not discuss rape kits because there would be no need for such things. But according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RANIN) there are more than a quarter million sexual assaults a year in the US, and every 107 seconds someone is sexually assaulted. Nearly half of the victims are reportedly under 18.

That means we do need rape kits and we should know something about this tool of forensic evidence. So, let's familiarize ourselves with the basics of rape kits -- what are they for, what is in them, how they are used, and by whom.

Why the Kit?

A rape kit refers to the materials used to conduct a forensic exam after a sexual assault. It is a pack of items bundled together to be used in the test to collect DNA evidence of the assault, meaning hair, skin, bodily fluids, and anything else the attacker has accidentally left behind.

Although reportedly nearly half of rapes are committed by "friends" or acquaintances, and about 80 percent by someone known to the victim, having physical evidence linking the perpetrator to the crime certainly helps prosecutors prove criminal cases. It should also be noted that some victims who choose not to report a rape immediately might later change their minds. Collecting the evidence as soon as possible after an assault ensures the evidence is available should anything change.

What's in the Kit?

State statutes vary and these, as well as local laws, will determine what specifically is found in a rape kit in a particular place. But according to RAINN, these are the items that are generally in this forensic evidence collection set:

  • Bags and paper sheets for evidence collection
  • Comb
  • Documentation forms
  • Envelopes
  • Instructions
  • Materials for blood samples
  • Swabs

Collecting the Evidence

After a sexual assault, a person may naturally feel dirty and want to wash up. But the best way to get the strongest evidence is to avoid washing up and straightening out. Although traces of evidence may be found beyond 72 hours after the attack, it's best to collect evidence early and the ideal time to submit to the forensic exam is as soon as possible after an attack.

A forensic exam may take a few hours. There are victim's assistance programs throughout the country, and a victim who wants to be accompanied by someone to an exam, but isn't ready to talk to friends or family, should seek out local service organizations that offer guidance and support.


If you have been accused of a crime -- whether sexual assault of otherwise -- speak to a lawyer. Many criminal defense attorneys consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to talk to you about your case.

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