What you need to know about rape kits: They’re free, no police report required

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The number of victims of rape annually in Michigan is on a steady rise, from 3,016 in 2014 to 3,670 in 2018, according to Michigan State Police

Michigan State Police | Susan J. Demas

However, according to the Office of Justice Programs office, only 19% of sexual violence victims in the U.S. in 2015 received victim services such as counseling, a medical forensic exam or a rape kit.

Here’s a guide to information concerning sexual assault medical forensic exams and evidence kits (rape kits) in Michigan.

Up to five days after a sexual assault, victims can receive a free medical forensic examination and rape kit under Michigan law. Victims have access to a full physical exam to treat injuries, with the option to pause or skip any part of the examination they want. They cannot be forced to file a police report as a requirement to receive an examination or kit.

How the examination works

Though it’s recommended that victims don’t shower or bathe before the exam, doing so does not bar anyone from receiving the exam or having evidence collected. Bringing a spare pair of clothes is advised if the victim consents to their clothes being collected for evidence. All parts of the exam are done in steps, in which the victim either consents or skips parts of the exam.

Victims will be treated for injuries, give a medical history, be asked questions about the assault to help health care providers know if sexually transmitted disease (STD) or pregnancy prevention measures need to be taken, and provide a full physical exam.

Emergency contraception, pregnancy testing and counsel are provided by many medical examiners. Low or no-cost family planning clinics are found all over Michigan to provide services.

The evidence kit 

When a person comes in for a medical forensic exam, they have the option to have an evidence kit. The doctor or nurse conducting the exam, with the consent of the patient, will collect DNA evidence (bodily fluids like saliva, blood, semen or hair left on the victim).

Sexual assault evidence kit | U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Rebecca Linder, Wikimedia Commons

Victims have two options for where the kit goes next: storage or the police. Health care providers are required by law to store a kit for one year, giving the victim time to decide if they would like to release the kit to the police or not. After one year, the kit is destroyed.

Evidence kits can be anonymous. Victims can file a Jan/John Doe kit to medical care providers and receive a code if they choose to be identified later on.

If the victim chooses to release the kit to the police within 24 hours of giving the health care facility written consent, the police will be notified and may contact the victim to make a report. The victim is not required to speak to police.

After being tested at a crime lab, evidence in the kit can possibly be admitted as evidence in a criminal court case and/or be entered into a database like the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) to track serial offenders and bring them to justice.

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Under Michigan law, victims have the right, upon request to law enforcement, to know certain information about the testing of a kit:

  • When a kit has been submitted to the forensic lab
  • Whether a DNA profile of a suspect was developed from the evidence and if that profile has been submitted into a database to catalog and compare DNA evidence
  • If the DNA profile developed from evidence from the kit matches a profile in a cataloging database, the victim has the right to know there is a match

Law enforcement is required to provide a handout with this information that explains the meaning of the provided information concerning the forensic exam.