Frequently asked questions after sexual assault

If you have been sexually assaulted, you may have some questions about your options

The Massachusetts Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program and Rape Crisis centers across the state are here to help.

Table of Contents

What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without consent. Sexual assault happens when a person is forced, coerced, pressured, or manipulated into any unwelcome sexual activity. 

When and where should I get medical care?

  • If possible, it is recommended that you seek medical care in a hospital Emergency Department as soon as you can. The sooner you get there after the assault the more options you may have.
  • You have the right to get medical care after a sexual assault without reporting anything to the police. 

What medical care should I get?

  • You can choose to receive any of the following:
    • A general physical exam to check for injuries and address any other health concerns.
    • Medications to help prevent pregnancy (if you are a person who can become pregnant).
    • Testing for and medications to help reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, and HIV.
    • A Forensic Exam with evidence collection. This is a detailed head-to-toe exam looking for any possible injuries or physical evidence that may be found on your body after an assault.
  • For adult and adolescent patients, time-sensitive evidence collection can be done up to five days (120 hours) after the assault, whether or not you decide to report your assault to the police.
  • A forensic exam could also include Toxicology testing (urine and/or blood) for substances that you may have taken, or that were given to you without your knowledge/consent, related to your sexual assault.
  • See below for more information about Forensic Exams and Evidence Collection.

Will I have to pay for my medical care?

  • If you have a forensic exam and evidence collection, the costs for your hospital care can be covered by a program called Victim Compensation.
  • If you want, you may choose to use your health insurance, but you are not required to use it for this care.
  • The hospital cannot bill you directly or charge you a co-pay for your care related to sexual assault. 

What is a MA Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (MA SANE)? And how can they help me?

  • A MA SANE is a clinician (nurse, nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, or doctor) who has specialized training from the MA Department of Public Health (DPH) to provide sexual assault exams and forensic evidence collection
  • MA SANEs are independent clinicians who work for DPH. They do not work for law enforcement.  They will keep your information confidential.  However, if you choose to report your assault, the SANE or the Rape Crisis advocate can help you do that.

Where can I go to get care from a MA SANE?

MA SANEs care for patients in many of the hospitals across Massachusetts. You can find the SANE hospital closest to you here:

What is a Rape Crisis Advocate? And how can they help me?

  • A Rape Crisis Advocate (“advocate”) is a person who has been trained to provide support to someone who has been sexually assaulted — no matter how long ago the assault happened. You have the right to have an advocate if you would like and the hospital should call an advocate whenever a person who has been sexually assaulted comes in for care.  They can be support to you whether or not you choose a forensic exam.

More Questions About Forensic Exams and Evidence Collection

Why might I want to consider getting a forensic exam and evidence collection?

During the forensic exam the SANE/Clinician documents your report of the assault and any physical findings and collects evidence that may be present after a sexual assault.  This evidence can be used as part of a law enforcement investigation.

Do I have to report my assault to the police in order to get a forensic exam/evidence collection?

  • No - it is up to you to decide whether or not to report to the police, and you can have a forensic exam and evidence collected even if you are not sure what you will decide.
  • You also have the option of reporting to the police without receiving medical care or having a forensic exam/evidence collection.

How much control will I have during a forensic exam?

  • What is done is your choice.  You do not need to complete any parts of the exam you are not comfortable with.
  • The SANE/Clinician will explain every step of the exam, and you can accept or decline any portion at any time. If you begin the exam and decide to take a break or stop, that is okay.

What should I expect during the forensic exam and evidence collection process?

  • You will be asked questions about the assault so that the SANE/Clinician can recommend which steps should be taken.
  • The evidence collection process involves the use of an evidence “kit” and is a series of steps during the forensic exam to collect evidence from areas of your body. This can include swabbing parts of your body with cotton swabs. If you have physical injuries, photographs may be an optional part of your evidence collection.
  • You may also be asked for your clothes if they may contain evidence from the sexual assault. If this happens, you will be provided with clothing to wear.
  • The exam may take a few hours in order to make sure your questions are answered, your medical needs are addressed, and evidence is properly collected and preserved. 

What happens to the evidence?

  • If you decide to report your assault to the police, your evidence kit is transported to a Crime Laboratory, where it is analyzed.
  • If you decide not to report your assault to the police, your evidence kit is transported to a secure location, but it will not be analyzed. It is stored for at least 15 years. If you later decide to report to the police, all of your evidence will be analyzed at that time.
  • If you have an evidence kit completed, you will be given information to help you to track the location of your kit — whether or not you report your assault to the police.
Last updated: June 25, 2024

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