Understanding Trauma & Violence


What is the rape kit backlog and what are my evidence collecting options?


After a sexual assault, a survivor can choose to have forensic exam (sometimes called a “rape kit” or “SANE exam”) completed at a hospital or designated rape crisis center with a specially trained medical professional. 

A forensic exam typically assesses and documents any injuries, swabs for DNA evidence, and administers medication to prevent pregnancy and STD/STIs. This exam is free and is most effective when it is completed within 72 hours after an assault has occurred. 

Having a forensic exam after an assault is a separate process from filing a report with law enforcement. You can choose to have evidence collected, but do not have to report your sexual assault at the same time if you don’t want to.

If you want to report your sexual assault, law enforcement will pick up any evidence and send it to a crime lab for testing. If you don’t want to report or are unsure, you can still have evidence collected, but it will be stored safely in case you want to report later. 

States often limit how long you can wait to report a crime, ranging from 2-30 years. If you may be interested in reporting your assault at any point, look up these limits based on the state where your assault occurred.

These are difficult decisions to make. You are not alone if you feel overwhelmed or unsure on what to do. Know that there is no “right” choice—there is only the choice that is right for you.

Having evidence saved is different from the rape kit backlog. The backlog refers to cases where a survivor makes a report, but evidence is not analyzed for a DNA match. This happens when evidence is never sent to a crime lab, or when a lab takes too long to process it. 

The backlog is an issue because the success of a legal case often depends on what evidence is available. The failure to process rape kits and test for DNA matches can affect whether a survivor obtains the justice they deserve. 

While the rape kit backlog problem has improved substantially, we still have a very long way to go until all backlogged kits are properly tested. Reporting after an assault has historically been a complex issue. If you need help navigating your options, contact your local rape crisis center. 

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