There are two kinds of exams available for victims of sexual assault. Victims may choose between a forensics exam and a general medical exam.
It is important that a victim see a physician or nurse as soon as possible in order to receive necessary medical treatment and to allow for the collection of evidence. Even if a victim does not notice any injuries, s/he should still have a medical examination, as a victim could have internal injuries of which she/he is not aware. A victim may also be at risk for contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or becoming pregnant. The examining physician or nurse may give a victim medicine to protect a victim from acquiring a sexually transmitted infection from the assault as well as medication to prevent pregnancy. It is important that a victim discuss treatment options with a health care professional.
For more information about the different types of medical care available to victims of sexual assault, please click on one of the topics below:
General Medical Exam
Options more than 5 days following the incident
A forensic exam is a special exam that is conducted as soon as possible following an assault to collect evidence that may be used in criminal proceedings. Generally the forensic exam should be done no later than 5 days after an assault, however in some cases injuries are so extensive that they have lasted longer than that time line. An examination by a trained doctor or nurse (sometimes called a forensic doctor or nurse) is required in order to collect physical evidence. This physical evidence is a vital part of the case against the attacker. The fact that evidence has been collected does not mean that a victim necessarily has to contact law enforcement or press charges against a perpetrator.
During a forensic exam, the forensic nurse will be talking to the victim first about her/his medical history and then will need to know some details about the assault to aid in evidence collection and her examination of injuries. The victim may have the victim advocate in the room to provide emotional support through the process, if so desired.
Evidence may be collected from the hair on the victim’s head, mouth, pubic hair and vagina, rectum and finger nails. Sometimes pictures may be taken of bruises, pinch marks, bite marks, scratches, lacerations or other injuries. Usually blood will be drawn for DNA identification also. In some cases clothing may need to be taken into evidence.
Fairfax County has developed a program called FACT (Forensic Assessment and Consultation Team, formerly known as SANE). Most examinations that involve evidence collection are performed at Fairfax Hospital. This program consists of a team of forensic nurses who have received extensive training in conducting sexual assault examinations.
Once at the hospital, a victim will be escorted to a private area.The victim will be escorted to a private examination room, and will be examined by a forensic nurse. The forensic nurses are on call 24 hours a day to conduct such an examination. As of July 1, 2008, victims in the Commonwealth of Virginia DO NOT need to contact or report to law enforcement in order to receive a forensic exam (please click here for more details about this change in the law). All services, with the exception of some medications, are provided free of charge to the victim. A forensic nurse will usually conduct the examination up to 5 days after the attack. After 5 days, little, if any, evidence will be available to collect.
- The forensic exam:
- Gathers evidence for use in court
- Preserves legal chain of evidence
- Does not require a victim to prosecute
- Without this exam criminal prosecution may be very difficult
- May be used in a civil suit
- Interviewed by doctor and/or sexual assault nurse examiner
- Must be performed at the hospital ER
- Paid for by Commonwealth (state)
If a victim decides not to report the crime, or if it has been more than 5 days since the attack, it is still important that a victim receive medical care. As a George Mason University student, a victim may wish to go to Student Health Services. The doctor and nurses who conduct the examination are trained in helping rape victims and are sensitive to their needs. Examinations performed at Student Health Services do not involve evidence collection, but are confidential and provide necessary medical care and follow-up as needed.
- The general medical exam:
- Check for injuries
- Screen for STI's, pregnancy
- Set up follow up appointments
- Does not require a victim to prosecute or report
- Can be used in criminal cases but much less effective than an evidence exam
- Can be used in a civil suit
- History is taken by doctor or nurse
- Free at GMU Student Health Services (for GMU students only)
- Paid for by a victim if a victim goes to a private doctor
- General Medical Exam:
- Check for injuries, even healed injuries
- Screen for STI's, pregnancy
- Set up follow-up appointments
- Can be used in both criminal and civil cases
- Forensic Exam:
- Not usually performed because little evidence will remain for court use
- Commonwealth (state) will pay for an evidence exam after 5 days only when authorized by law enforcement