Why Is It Important to Receive Medical Care After an Assault?

  1. Overview
  2. Sexual Violence
  3. Why Is It Important to Receive Medical Care After an Assault?

It is important to seek medical care as soon as possible after an assault. Taking care of your health at this time is an important step in the healing process. You can be examined for injuries, some of which you may not be aware of, given antibiotics to prevent bacterial sexually transmitted diseases and receive medication to protect against pregnancy. In addition, evidence can be collected which may help lead to the conviction of the assailant in the event that the crime is prosecuted.


Immediately after the assault, it is important not to shower, bathe, eat or drink, douche or change your clothes. These activities can destroy important physical evidence.


When you go to the hospital, take a change of clothes with you. If you have already changed your clothes, take the ones you were wearing at the time of the assault with you in a paper bag. The clothes will be needed for evidence. Do not put the clothing in a plastic bag because plastic can destroy evidence.


At the hospital you will be asked why you are seeking medical attention. You will be asked to give your name, address, and other personal information. You will be asked to give permission for a forensic medical examination to collect evidence. Many hospitals will automatically call a victim advocate for you, or they may ask if you wish one to be called. The advocate is there to help you, to answer your questions, to provide help and support.


Many hospitals now have specially trained nurses to provide care and collect evidence after an assault. These nurses are called Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs). The SANE will document evidence of injuries and determine treatment for the patient. The SANE will do a full examination to note any trauma. Depending on the type of assault, a pelvic examination may be necessary to check for injuries. If you believe that you were drugged and sexually assaulted, tell the attending medical staff or SANE and ask that you be screened to detect the presence of any drugs or other substances used to commit sexual assault. The first urine after the assault needs to be collected. The likelihood of detecting drugs used to commit rape lessens each time you urinate.


A sex crime evidence collection kit may be used to collect forensic evidence. If you choose to report to law enforcement the sex crime kit will be sent to the State Police Forensic Lab.


Sex crime evidence collection kits collected from victims who choose not to report the assault to law enforcement will be sent to Marshall University Forensic Science Center (MUFSC), where the collected evidence will be stored for potential future use. It is important to note that if liquid samples were collected as a part of the toxicology kit (blood and urine), the samples will have a limited life span and will degrade over time. Other samples collected as part of the forensic medical examination (swabs, etc) will have an unlimited lifespan if collected and dried properly.


Should the decision be made later to initiate an investigation in a non-reported case, the victim would need to contact law enforcement and provide the kit tracking number for law enforcement to be able to secure the sex crime evidence collection kit from MUFSC.


If an investigation has not been initiated within 18 months from its time of collection, the evidence collection kit will be categorized as "non-active." Samples collected as part of the forensic medical examination in "non-active" kits may be used for training purposes once all identifying information has been removed. After the 18 month time period, if the "non-active" sex crime evidence collection kit has not been used for training purposes, the victim can still request that an investigation be initiated. There is no statute of limitations on reporting a sexual assault in West Virginia.


Learn More: Forensic Medical Exam

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