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What Is a Medical Forensic Exam?

Moving Away From “Rape Kits”

While “rape kit” is often heard in the media and on television crime shows, this term does not fully encompass the spectrum of care given in a medical forensic exam and may discourage individuals who do not identify with the term “rape” from seeking medical care.

“Medical forensic exam” (MFE) is a broad term used for specialized medical care following a disclosure or suspicion of sexual assault. There are many aspects of care that may or may not be included in the exam. Care (or medical actions) are determined by the patient’s history, choices, and risks versus the benefits from a medical standpoint. This term more accurately encompasses the spectrum of sexual violence, as well as the comprehensive care received during a medical forensic examination. However, it is not uncommon for people to use the term “rape kit” and it is important that professionals are able to provide accurate education about the medical forensic examination and evidence collection.

You cannot be refused a MFE if you want one and law enforcement does not authorize its use. Even if the assault occurred more than seven days ago, it is always a good idea to seek medical care from a trained practitioner who can support you and help you understand your options.

MFEs are best performed within seven days of the assault if you would like to have evidence collected. During the exam, the nurse will ask you about what happened and collect any potential evidence from your body. This process can take a few hours and it moves at a pace comfortable to you. The nurse will explain each step before they do it, and you can agree to or decline any part of the exam you don’t like. The evidence collected is stored in an envelope (a “kit” or “sexual assault forensic evidence collection kit”) and given to the law enforcement. Whether law enforcement is given your contact information is determined by the type of report you choose.

Survivors in Colorado have the right to report anonymously and protect your privacy. However, if you make contact with a law enforcement officer before knowing this, then this right is lost. Therefore, it is important that you are aware of this.

For Friends and Families

As a supporter to the survivor it is important to understand that, because of the stigma and shame survivors may be feeling, they may need time to process their experiences and may not feel 100% comfortable opening up about everything that happened. Therefore, the best option would be to encourage them to seek support and assistance from resources specializing in sexual assault trauma. Take a look at our resource map to find a confidential sexual assault advocacy program near you and/or some 24/7 help line numbers you or a survivor can call for assistance.