How sexual assault kits are taken: A step-by-step look

A forensic examiner talked with FOX19 NOW’s Payton Marshall about what goes into a sexual assault kit to provide more transparency for patients.
Published: May. 23, 2023 at 9:02 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - A forensic examiner talked with FOX19 NOW’s Payton Marshall about what goes into a sexual assault kit to provide more transparency for patients.

One in three women and one in nine men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, according to the CDC.

Police gather evidence through a sexual assault kit, but there is not a lot of information about how the process works.

Christine Hassert is the forensic examiner for the Center for Abuse and Rape Emergency Services.

She says timing is a crucial part of the process, and typically there is a 96-hour window for evidence to be collected.

“When someone goes through something as hideous as a sexual assault, that’s terrible enough,” explains Hassert. “You lose all your sense of control of yourself, of your body, and so when they come in, and we go through the sexual assault exam, it’s personal.”

Hassert says sexual assaults often go underreported, but she wishes more people knew that in Ohio, kits are free of charge.

“I had someone ask me the other day where they go to pay and how much this was going to cost, and it just about broke my heart,” says Hassert.

Patients have to give continuous consent throughout every step of the process, adding that they can choose to stop whenever they want, according to Hassert.

“Every aspect plays into one another and supports one another,” explains Hassert. “Maybe they were bitten somewhere, maybe they were slapped somewhere. Those were places they were touched, so I need to consider that when I go through the part of the kit where they collect the dried stains.”

The sexual assault kit process includes disrobing and then a body examination where a blue light is used to search for dried stains.

“We go through oral swabs, we go through swabs under the nails, anywhere on the skin where they were touched, licked, kissed, bitten,” says Hassert.

Photos and sometimes clothing will be collected.

A few weeks ago, FOX19 NOW toured the inside of Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation to see how evidence is processed.

The important part, according to Hassert, is how the evidence is retrieved from the patient.

“They’ve sustained trauma; this is a very sensitive area,” Hassert explains. “We talk through everything; we ask permission before we touch them.”

The entire process takes around four hours, Hassert says.

She says if there is concern that drugs or alcohol were involved, willingly or unwillingly, urine and blood could be collected.

“Everyone has their own journey, everyone has their own choice with how they want to handle this, and there’s no right or wrong way if they choose not to report it, not to come in, that’s ok,” says Hassert. “You know, everyone’s story is their own story, but if they do, I want them to understand that we’re here to help them.”

Hassert said she wants to emphasize that patients have to give continuous consent, so if they decide to turn down part of the examination or want to stop, they are allowed to do so.

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