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The "Jane Doe rape kit" - why it makes a big difference

About the author: Mladan Novosenici is a former defense attorney with over 10 years of experience. He is one of the co-founders of itsGOV.com - the leading forensic science and crime scene investigation network.

A "Jane Doe rape kit" is the common name given to the forensic examination of a sexual assault victim who chooses to remain anonymous. Basically, it enables rape victims to have forensic evidence collected without revealing any identifying information; it is also free in the United States.

Most sexually assaulted women feel extremely ashamed, and are usually reluctant to go to the authorities for examination, either because they are traumatized, or because they don't want to be stigmatized by the society, or simply because they don't trust the officials. The kits will allow victims who are too afraid or too ashamed to go to the police the chance to undergo an emergency-room forensic rape exam. With this system, victims are given a code number they can use to later identify themselves, should they choose to. They can press charges but are not obliged to do so, nor are they required to cooperate with the justice authorities. The evidence will be kept on file in a sealed envelope should the victim decide to press charges - which they really should do, even if they would like to remain anonymous.

The new federal requirement aims to eliminate one of the biggest problems in prosecuting rape cases: the fact that most women simply don't want to come forward right away to the forensics, which can collect hair, semen, or other possibly incriminatory evidence. Many women change their minds and go to the police after the initial shock passes, but then, it is already too late to collect evidence.

“Sometimes the issue of actually having to make a report to police can be a barrier to victims, and this will allow that barrier to cease,” Carey Goryl, executive director of the International Association of Forensic Nurses told the AP in a recent interview. “Victims can now wait and think about it before deciding whether to talk to police.”

The practice is already in state at hospitals and colleges throughout the country, enforced by the The Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005 (“VAWA 2005”), 42 U.S.C. § 3796gg-4(d), which states that states may not “require a victim of sexual assault to participate in the criminal justice system or cooperate with law enforcement in order to be provided with a forensic medical exam, reimbursed for charges incurred on account of such an exam, or both[]” - the exam is free of charge even if the victim chooses not to collaborate with investigators.

The exam is typically performed by specialized personnel, typically a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) or forensic examiner.

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