The Sexist

What’s In A Rape Kit?

For this week's paper, I wrote a story detailing some of the historical problems that rape victims have faced in attempting to receive a rape kit in Washington, D.C. Rape kits are hours-long medical forensic exams administered in order to collect evidence from a victim's body following a sexual assault. The D.C. SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) program, which performs the exams at Washington Hospital Center, allowed us to document each component of a District rape kit in order to better understand the process. Photos by Darrow Montgomery.


A cabinet storing rape kits at Washington Hospital Center.


A rape kit is known as a "Physical Evidence Recovery Kit," or PERK.


A white sheet is placed under the victim to collect debris from her body.


Clothing is collected and stored in a paper bag.


Swabs and glass slides are used to collect evidence from the body.


Swabs for the lips and lip area.


A sample of the victim's saliva.


A sample from the victim's cheek.


An envelope for storing hair contaminated with semen.


A sample of the victim's head hair.


A bag for collecting the victim's underwear.


A bag for the victim's tampon or sanitary napkin.


An envelope for collecting the pubic hair combings.


The comb.


A sample of the victim's pubic hair.


Swabs for the thighs and external genitalia.


Swabs for the vagina and cervix.


Swabs for the perianal and buttocks.


Swabs for the anus and rectum.


Miscellaneous swabs.


An envelope for collecting other material on the victim's body.


A sample of the victim's blood.


A seal for the completed kit.


A bag for transporting the completed kit.


The safe used to store completed kits.

  • Mazzie

    The paper pictured under the comb is part of the kit, as well (if it's the paper I am thinking of). The survivor is asked to undress on top of a large sheet of paper so it can collect any potential evidence falling from her body.

    I can't emphasize how important it is to have an examiner who is trained to collect sexual assault evidence for this kit (SANE). When one is not available, the exam is performed by ER staff, who are usually reluctant and abrupt.

  • PD

    Seeing that gave me chills. Not that I want to minimize the essential nature of the S.A.N.E., but as Mazzie pointed out I can only imagine how critical a trained examiner would be-- in the aftermath of a rape, having to undergo the exam and collection process seems like it would be kind of terrifying without someone knowledgeable and compassionate performing the exam.

  • vertigo

    Thanks for this.

  • Em

    Thanks for posting this. It's really good information to have available. I know one of the most harrowing experiences ever was staying with a friend who was going through a SANE exam--it took all day, was exhausting and frustrating, and we initially went to the wrong hospital and had to be transferred. All of that plus questionning from the police, it was quite an experience and I have to say that it's brave to just go through the process at all, especially since it needs to be done as soon as possible after the assault when the victim needs to rest and process what's happened. I think a lot more people would go through the process all the way if they knew what to expect from it and why it's necessary.

    Also, I think it helps not to go through it alone. We were there to keep her mind off of what was going on and hold her hand and I think that made a difference.

  • Megan

    Wow. This is actually really helpful to know, I had no idea that much went into the exam, I thought it was more like a physical.

  • Em

    Oh, and something to add: if you want plan B (which you probably do if you're in this situation) call ahead to the hospital and make sure you're not going to the Catholic one. And it's not always obvious! We went to the one that WASN'T called St. whatever's and it turned out that was the secular hospital.

  • Manor

    The rape kits are collected and then largely forgotten in DC. "Three thousand untested rape kits are sitting in a warehouse." See:

    All part of our majorly dysfunction criminal justice "system".

  • tasneem

    This looks like a time-consuming and psychologically difficult process to go through. I'd love to get a response from the commentors who insist there's a destructive horde of "sex regretters" out there, going around falsely alleging rape because it's so easy and convenient for them.

  • Em

    Tasneem, it's not just time-consuming and psychologically difficult, it's also often pretty futile--they let us know that since it was a date rape situation, there was probably very little case and there wouldn't likely be a trial. My friend's impetus to go through it anyway was that if the bastard did it again, she wanted her case on file with full evidence so that that girl could get his ass in jail.

    So add futile, and really, you'd have to be crazy to fake a rape. It's not an easy or convenient process. Too bad so many people still believe the rape-crying myth.

  • Manor

    Em, see my link above. If law enforcement is important to you and your friend, you might want to limit your victimizations to MD or VA. (that's sarcasm there, by the way)

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  • RosieRed23

    I suppose this might not technically be part of an actual rape kit, but I know of a number of post-rape exams that included having photos taken, of injuries such as scratches, bruises, cuts, swelling, etc. Those photos were always put in with the other evidence in the kit.

  • Sarah

    Chilling to see, but so very important. Thanks Amanda.

  • PD

    @RosieRed23 I work in the health center at a state college, and we keep a camera on hand to document any incidents, suspected or alleged, of abuse or assault. It was provided by our Women's Center.

  • hutch

    In response to EM's "Too bad so many people still believe the rape-crying myth."

    I wish this were the case--that our challenge was "merely" getting the public to believe rape victims. I think, instead, our real challenge is getting people who already believe it to admit that they believe it. But this hinges on believing that the perpetrators (our friends, children, neighbors, clergymen, grocer, etc.) would commit such an unfathomable act. Just like child molestation/incest. Most people find it too high of a psychological price to pay, admitting that 1 of (insert random small number here) would be a best friend, an uncle/aunt, a school counselor and child molester all wrapped up in one. Too disconcerting. Saying it doesn't doesn't doesn't happen and voila! psychologically survive another day.

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