Double Violation

After the assault -- the search for evidence is another violation.

After the assault -- the search for evidence is another violation. Source: redwolfoz hide caption

toggle caption Source: redwolfoz

Rape is a unique crime. It's worse in some ways, than almost any other kind of assault — a form of mental and physical torture that cannot help but leave its victims changed. Part of that is because of the nature of the crime itself — the victim is often treated with skepticism. And that skepticism, in turn, leads to a lack of reporting on sexual assault in general. But if a victim is brave enough to press charges, the process of recovering the evidence is like a second violation. Evidence collected for what's called a "rape kit" (hair, fluid, and other proof), is best recovered as soon after the attack as possible — which means a rape victim, mental and physical wounds still fresh, must submit to examination and photographs, and being handled by several different strangers. This process is disturbingly captured in Human Rights Watch's Sarah Tofte's article for the LA Times. (A small warning: the article is hard to read.) And after all that, Tofte reports, rape kits are shelved; sometimes, for years, while victims wait for answers. We'll talk about the process of evidence collecting today, feel free to share your thoughts.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

I was assaulted as a child. When I was 5 there was an attempted gang raping by three teenage boys. The attack wasn't wholly successful for penile penetrative rape as the group was being hurried and my being young and small - and my primary thoughts at the time was wondering when this was going to be over so I could go back outside and play.

The medical exam, however, when I somehow managed to inform my mother what had happened was extremely painful, traumatizing, and humiliating. The examining physician was an old man who never talked to me directly.. seemed very distant.. no one explained to me what was going on.. and they brought medical students in to observe my examination as a teaching tool. I was devastated by the experience.

When I came of age I worked for several years with the rape crisis and domestic violence hotline and shelter. I worked as an advocate for rape victims at the time of their examination.

I believe that every individual needs an advocate at this vulnerable time and neither law enforcement or the medical establishment are prepared to take that role.

Sent by Amy - Oregon | 3:30 PM | 7-17-2008

Just to clarify, Police Officers do not decide who goes to court that is the job of the District Attorney.

When I was a police officer, I responded to many domestic violence incidents and none made it to trial even though I had taped and sometimes written statements from the victims and the offenders.

I found that it usually cam down to a combination of the District Attorney didn't have the money to prosecute all the cases they wanted to and many of the victims didn't want to press charges after the fact.

Sent by Dirk | 3:37 PM | 7-17-2008

This was a sad and difficult show to listen to - it's hard to go through that process, and it's terrible to know that the evidence is sometimes not processed. However, I've been through the collection process twice now, once as a 6 year old, and once at 16. Both collection kits assisted in the conviction of my attackers. The second kit, in particular, helped more than just me - that attacker was a serial rapist who focused on women who were developmentally disabled. I was the first in the series, and my testimony at trial - and my rape kit - helped corroborate the stories of the other women he attacked, who would have otherwise been unable to effectively share their stories. It's worth it to get the kit done.

Sent by Angel | 3:41 PM | 7-17-2008

This is a problem that deserves our immediate attention, and no rape kit should ever be left untested.
We should also realize that the problem extends to all kinds of evidence in forensic science labs. There are backlogs in murder cases, missing persons cases, and other areas. We should be urging our local legislators to fully fund crime labs, and our federal legislators to fully fund the Coverdell Act and other forensic science grant programs.

For another look at problems facing crime labs, I urge you to visit the web site of the Crime Lab Project,

Sent by Jan Burke, Director, the Crime Lab Project | 9:50 PM | 7-17-2008

I have been a sexual assault services advocate for four years. Most of the police that I have worked with during this time are very compassionate and caring in their approach. Others have treated victims in appalling ways- locking them in the back of the squad car for hours, stealing a victim's cell phone and calling everyone down the list with it at 3am to find out "what she had been up to that evening," calling the victim a liar, and even arresting a victim for a past offense immediately following the evidence collection.

I am also very alarmed at the number of catholic hospital ERs that refuse to administer emergency contraception to victims following an assault- even in states that legally require it.

I think another topic that demands further examination is the lack of sexual assault forensic evidence protocols in emergency rooms run by the Indian Health Service. This is particularly alarming given the extremely high rates of sexual assault among American Indian women. The current statistics show that one in three native women will be sexually assaulted during her lifetime.

Sent by Christina | 4:08 PM | 7-18-2008

While i was away at college I became the victim of rape while on a weekend trip with my roommate. My roommate and I were staying at her friends home which was paid for by the college for athletes. I fell asleep that night on the couch and then was awakened hours later to a young man raping me. I laid there quite and still until he finished, fearing that he would hurt me more if he knew I had woke up. As soon as he went back to his girlfriends bedroom I went to the bathroom and called my sister and mother. My mom told me to wake up my roommate and to have her drive me to a hospital immediately. The hospital did a rape kit on me and also contact the police. The police went to the home where the rape had occurred, collected evidence, and also brought the young man into the police station. At the police station they collected a DNA specimen from him. I didn't waste a moment on getting started with the case, because I was not going to allow this to possibly happen to anyone else. Sadly enough I dealt with the same things most rape victims deal with, and that is that they rarely ever get justice. You see the man that raped me was a star athlete at the college and what I've learned is that they likely did what was necessary to cover it up. I learned this through the doctor I spoke with many, many times at the crime lab. I started calling the crime lab doctor as soon as possible to see if they had gotten any results and on the first call the doctor told me that he had received my clothing,rape kit, and DNA info but had not received the young man's blood/DNA specimens. The doctor informed me that he was not very surprised to have not received the man's specimens considering his status at the college in the small town where the rape occurred. It wasn't until almost 6 months after the rape that the doctor finally received the man's specimens. The specimen results came back revealing that there was only a 1 in a million chances that it wasn't him. We started the trial and every judge approved it to the next level of court each time. There was one final court day left and I was finally going to be able to put this behind me, but the day before the court hearing a court official came to my front door with a notice informing me that the case had been dropped. I was absolutely crushed but so very angry at the same time. I was told that it was dropped due to lack of evidence, even with the positive DNA. I tried to go further with it but it was all to much for me to go through again. I still to this day, 7 years later have nightmares, trust issues with men, difficulties in relationship with men, and fear that he will come find me. I don't think I'll ever understand how our system can work this way and can only hope that changes are made sooner rather than later.

Sent by Brigid | 9:23 PM | 7-20-2008

Child sexual abuse and other sex crimes (against both sexes) are rampant and often go unpunished - and I think our nation / our WORLD really needs (humanely) a GRIP on this! I personally believe sex offenders should be made to spend some time (humanely) in jail or prison (depending on the seriousness of the crime, number of past offenses, etc.) MAKING / PRODUCING child sexual abuse PREVENTION pamphlets, putting out awareness info regarding post-traumatic-stress-disorder, etc. - along with getting some serious trauma-therapy, by well-qualified psychologists that don't skirt the tough issues involved!

If you get a chance, check out my blog (it addresses a lot of similar issues) at

I have a link to your blog posted there, as well!

Thank You,

Sent by N.S. | 9:40 PM | 7-20-2008

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from