If you were recently sexually assaulted within the last 7 (or in some hospitals, 10) days in Minnesota, you can seek a medical forensic exam (commonly known as a rape kit or sexual assault exam) at a local emergency room. These exams are completed by trauma-trained Forensic Nurse Examiners. An advocate will also respond to provide you with support.
How do I prepare for an exam?
While you can receive an exam within 7 (or 10) days after an assault, it is best to go as soon as possible. If you can, place items that may have the perpetrator's DNA on them in a paper bag and bring them to the hospital with you. These may include your clothes, a condom or dental dam, a tampon, bedsheets, etc. You can still receive an exam after using the restroom and showering. However, the most evidence will remain intact if you are unshowered. If possible, collect your first urine sample to bring with you to the hospital. Plan to spend 3-4 hours at the hospital. When you arrive to the emergency room, you will be asked to fill out registration paperwork and be screened by a few different individuals, including a doctor. Their main purpose is to assess if there are any immediate injuries (i.e. internal bleeding) that need attention. It can be difficult to recount the incident over and over again, but be sure to communicate any types of physical force that may have been used during the assault (including choking/strangulation). As they assess for any immediate injuries, hospital staff will call a Forensic Nurse to come and perform the exam.
What happens in the exam?
The Forensic Nurse will explain the various parts of the exam and that you have the right to provide, decline, or withdraw consent to any part of the exam at any time. While the exam offers each of the following parts, you can select to participate in all, some, or none of them:
- Oral account of the incident - This is documented by the nurse and kept on file, and it helps the nurse to know what physical evidence to collect (i.e. swabs of various body parts). Any support people besides an advocate will likely be asked to step out during this time.
- Physical examination - This may involve use of a speculum for vaginal or anal exams. The nurse will document any visible injuries (which are uncommon) on a body diagram and/or by taking photos.
- Forensic evidence collection - The nurse may swab body parts where contact was made for potential DNA testing. They may also take toxicology samples via urine and/or blood, though it is important to note that some substances may leave the system quickly. They will collect items such as clothing, tampons, condoms, glass, razors, etc. that may have DNA from the perpetrator.
- Medication - Depending on the sexual contact that occurred, patients may choose to receive prophylactic (preventative) medication for: gonorrhea, chlamydia, bacterial vaginosis (BV), trichomonas, and HIV. They may also choose to take emergency contraception. The majority of these medications are all covered by the exam (see Cost section for specific information). Because STI's have an incubation period of 10-14 days, no testing is done during the forensic exam - only treatment. Patients will be provided information for follow-up resources regarding STI testing, injuries, and/or therapy if necessary.
Many survivors choose to get a sexual assault exam as a step to ensure their physical health and wellbeing. Though it involves a long hospital visit, it can help provide closure and healing to some. It is important to note that a medical forensic exam cannot determine if a sexual assault occurred. However, if the assault is reported and the kit is tested, the results may confirm that sexual contact occurred and with whom. Even so, medical forensic exams can be extremely helpful as evidence in a legal case if a survivor chooses to pursue one.
Medical forensic exams are free for all patients. The cost of the exam is paid for by the county where the assault occurred. However, if any additional medical care is needed outside the regular services of the exam, the patient/their insurance will be billed. For help with cost of additional medical services, an advocate can provide information on Minnesota Crime Victim Reparations, which compensates victims of crimes for medical (including follow up mental health) costs if the crime was reported to law enforcement.
If a patient chooses to receive any prophylactic medication, most of these costs are covered by the County and not billed to the patient. There are two exceptions where the patient and/or their insurance would be billed:
- Medication for Bacterial Vaginosis - This cannot be taken at the hospital if the patient has consumed alcohol within the last 3 days. The nurse can send a prescription to a pharmacy for the patient to pick up and begin taking when the alcohol has left their system.
- Medication for Chlamydia - This medication runs a 7 day course and therefore the nurse will need to discharge the prescription to be picked up at a pharmacy by the patient. There are options for one-time doses given at the hospital that are less effective but are no cost to the patient.
Must I report to law enforcement in order to receive a forensic exam?
No. Reporting to law enforcement is your choice. If you choose to report at the hospital, your sexual assault kit will be "unrestricted" and sent to law enforcement and the BCA for the physical evidence to be processed. If you do not report to law enforcement at the hospital, your kit will be "restricted" and not tested. It will be stored anonymously for a minimum of 2.5 years (can be extended by request) and eventually destroyed. If you choose to report during this time, you can "un-restrict" your kit for it to be tested and utilized in your criminal case. If a survivor thinks there is a possibility they may want to report their assault to law enforcement at any time in the future, we recommend getting a medical forensic exam, as it can provide useful evidence in a legal case.
Where do I go to get an exam?
If the assault happened within the last 7 days, most hospitals in Hennepin County provide this service. The closest ones to UMN-TC are:
See other hospital locations that offer this exam up to 10 days after an assault here.
For physical healthcare following an assault (including STI testing), call/visit: