Sexual assault is a severe crime that the state of Washington takes very seriously. Victims of sexual violence often seek assistance at hospitals or medical centers following the assault, and receive an examination known as a rape kit. Rape kits collect certain pieces of evidence from victims’ bodies, including potential DNA evidence, so that they can use the results to prosecute the perpetrator of the assault.
The Basics of Sexual Assault Forensic Exams
After an act of sexual assault, several pieces of evidence may remain on the victim’s body. Like other crime scenes, investigators can collect DNA evidence from a person to determine who committed the crime and to build a case against the perpetrator. Experts encourage victims of sexual assault to visit a hospital to receive a sexual assault forensic exam, also known as a rape kit, so that law enforcement officers can begin their investigation.
A trained medical or forensic professional usually performs a sexual assault forensic exam, collecting evidence from various areas of the victim’s body, clothes, and other pieces of evidence he or she brings to the hospital. The investigator will usually be a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) or a Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE).
An exam can include any of the following components.
- Immediate treatment of any injuries that the victim is suffering from
- Questions about the victim’s medical and sexual history to ensure that evidence collection is as thorough and accurate as possible
- A head-to-toe examination where the investigator may take swabs of the mouth and genitals, as well as take samples of blood, urine, and hair
- The taking of samples of any other pieces of evidence that the investigator finds, such as clothing scraps, stray hairs, and debris
- Follow-up care for any injuries, sexually transmitted diseases, or potential pregnancies
Storing Evidence After a Rape Kit
Once the examiner finishes a sexual assault forensic exam, the victim can choose to submit the evidence to the police or to keep the evidence stored at the hospital. Sexual assault is a very underreported sex crime, so many victims do choose to keep the kit at the hospital until they decide whether or not they want to launch criminal charges against their perpetrators.
Different states and jurisdictions store rape kits for varying amounts of time. A new Washington state law requires that law enforcement officers test and process these exams within 45 days of the exam. In addition, law enforcement must inform victims of the forensic analysis of their exams and before they destroy a kit.
Washington Rape and Sexual Assault Laws
Sexual assault is a serious crime in the state of Washington and carries serious penalties along with it. Any act of sexual intercourse or contact can be an act of sexual assault, and Washington requires consent to be free and informed. A perpetrator cannot coerce, force, or trick a victim into giving consent. In addition, certain people cannot give consent, such as someone who is underage, who has a mental or physical disability that precludes them from giving free and informed consent, or someone who is incapacitated by alcohol or drugs.
Sexual assault charges can range in severity.
- First-degree and second-degree rape involve forcible sexual intercourse, but first-degree rape may also involve weapons, kidnapping, breaking and entering, or serious physical injuries. First-degree rape and second-degree rape charges are both Class A felonies. Penalties for this crime can include up to life in prison and fines up to $50,000.
- Third-degree rape charges are Class B felonies, and involve forcible sexual intercourse that does not constitute second or first-degree rape. Penalties can include up to 5 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
- Indecent liberty charges are also Class A felonies punishable by life in prison and up to $50,000 in fines. This crime involves any forcible sexual contact without the consent of the victim.
Many people suffer from instances of sexual assault every single year, but not all accusations of sexual violence are valid. If someone wrongfully accuses you of committing sexual assault, you could face consequences to your freedom, reputation, and well-being. In these situations, you need a crime defense attorney to help you advocate for your side of the story.
Hiring your own defense lawyer can provide you with a number of benefits for your case, including open communication, familiarity of Washington sexual assault law, and access to resources such as expert witnesses and crime labs. Contact a defense attorney as soon as possible following your arrest to determine your pathway towards the best possible outcome.