[Content note: rape, sexual assault exams, almost nothing else. ]
The organization I volunteer for is excellent and highly recommended. However, statements below should be taken as from me, not from them.
To the best of my knowledge, I’ve specified where I know that there is state-to-state variation and I’m speaking for Massachusetts
On the good days it looks like this:
I get a call from the woman supervising my shift. She’s on the same line as the SANE nurses who administer the rape kits. When they get paged to go to a hospital, we do too.
I pick up my bag (pamphlets, a binder of resources, phone chargers, fidgets, notebook, pen), head to whichever hospital called in.
The SANE and I arrive at nearly the same time—she isn’t tied up on another case.
The client is in a private room with a door that closes.
The nurses have been kind to the survivor.
Someone has told them what’s going on, who will be arriving.
We spend four hours or less going through the kit.
The client is alone or with someone who cares for them, who thinks this is worth doing and they are brave for doing it.
They have a place to go home to afterwards.
They have eaten that day.
Not all days are good days.
In Massachusetts, you do not need to have reported your rape/assault to the police to have evidence collected. This is not the case in all states, and not the case in adjoining states, necessitating that we ask survivors where their residence is located.
Some reasons I think the MA model is superior: it allows people in abusive situations to go into the hospital, document evidence of a rape, and then after leaving the abusive situation, involve the police. If you’re in fear for your life, or the lives of loved ones, this can be safer.
Rape kits, which are technically known as sexual assault evidence collection kits, are identical for everyone 12 and up—that is, they contain the same (in MA) sixteen steps of evidence collection.
Importantly, (in MA) anyone of any age can decline any step. A twelve year old can say they would prefer not to have any oral swabs taken and that’s that. Informed consent is gathered from the survivor, not the parent, in all cases over the age of 12. (I’m specifying there because I don’t interact with under-12s, and don’t know how it works).
I expected to find the children the hardest, but this has been surprisingly untrue. People—nurses, doctors, technicians have been around children. They often have children at home, or in their extended family. There are very few* circumstances in which these people can be persuaded that children deserved to be assaulted or aren’t interested in being helped.
This is not usually how people—nurses, doctors, technicians—feel about people who are homeless, or people who have abused drugs, especially if those people have been in the emergency room before.
The last time I walked home from a hospital after a case, I got catcalled. This happens maybe a third of the time—it’s usually late, I’m usually dressed up, the hospitals are downtown. This doesn’t make me feel better about the state of the world.
Home. I smell of hospital. All my clothes—no exceptions—go in the wash. Hot shower. Scrub. Soft clothes. I call in to the woman who sent my out, my supervisor. I talk her through the case—where I was, where the assault took place, how many assailants, what kind of assault, was the client safe, how did I feel, what staff were involved, how did they treat the client. I say the things, the details I don’t want my partner, my friends to have in their head. Sometimes I tell the same story twice, three times, repeating ’til the initial horror and revulsion has bled out.
I am pretty sure if you can’t forget the stories, you can’t live with this job. I do not remember the names, and this is a conscious choice. I call in the referrals (counseling, legal, case assistance) and put a penny in a jar and go back to my life: a party, a book, sleep, people who have never left bruises on my wrists, face, legs.
There are too many pennies.
This is a good summary of the steps of a rape kit.
*Sadly, exceptions in the case of teens who went to parties.