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Frequently Asked Questions
What is a forensic exam?
A medical forensic exam is a complete head-to-toe examination following a physical or sexual assault. The exam is done by a forensic nurse, who is a registered nurse and specially trained to care for people who have experienced violence.
Who can get a forensic exam?
DCFNE's services are available regardless of immigration status, sex, gender, income level, and disability. DCFNE's nurses can provide medical forensic exams to:
• People who have experienced a sexual assault (ages 13+)
• People who have experienced an assault by a current or former intimate partner (12+)
• People who have experienced an assault by a relative or family member (18+)
Do I have to make a police report if I get an exam?
No. All of DCFNE's services are available whether or not you choose to report your assault to the police. We will keep your information confidential unless you ask us to share it or we are required to make a mandatory report (see below).
What happens during an exam?
During the exam, the forensic nurse will:
• Ask you to describe the assault
• Do a complete physical exam
• Ask you about your medical history and any physical symptoms
• Identify and document your injuries
• Take photos of injuries or other findings
• Collect physical evidence (sexual assault only)
• Administer medications to prevent sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy, and/or HIV (sexual assault only)
• Make referrals for advocacy or other services, as needed
The patient controls every aspect of the exam. You have the right to decline any part of the exam or request that the nurse use different techniques for your comfort.
I don't have any bruises or injuries. Why should I get an exam?
Even if you don't see injuries, you may still be at risk of complications, especially if you were strangled (or "choked") during the assault. The forensic nurse will do a thorough evaluation to determine if you need any follow-up care or testing. We also use special forensic tools to better see bruising and injuries that are difficult to see with the naked eye. We can document those difficult-to-see injuries with photographs and written descriptions.
Will you collect a "rape kit"?
In DC, the "rape kit" is called a Physical Evidence Recovery Kit (PERK) and it is used to collect physical evidence for DNA and other testing. If you were sexually assaulted, and you consent to having evidence collected, we may collect a PERK.
How long do you keep my PERK?
If you decide to make a police report, we will send your PERK to the DC Department of Forensic Sciences for testing within 7 days. If you do not make a police report, DCFNE will hold your PERK for one year (or longer, if you request it).
I don't plan to press charges. Why should I get an exam?
An exam is about more than just collecting evidence. Forensic nurses are specially trained to care for your health following an assault. They will look for injuries, including those that you cannot see, and symptoms of complications and recommend follow-up care. They can help you prevent unwanted pregnancy or STI/HIV infections. If you choose to later report to police, the documentation and evidence collected at the time of the exam can be used.
What if I think I was drugged and sexually assaulted?
The forensic nurse will ask you some questions about what happened and if you suspect that drugs or alcohol were a factor in your sexual assault. The nurse can collect blood and urine samples for toxicology testing. Testing is done by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. You can request toxicology testing whether or not you report your assault to police.
How long does the exam take?
Sexual assault exams can take 2-4 hours and domestic violence exams take 1-3 hours. The length of the exam depends on the number and type of injuries. DCFNE takes patients in the order that they arrive at the hospital, so if there are patients already there, you may have to wait for your exam to begin. The forensic nurse and an advocate will check in with you while you wait and will help you prepare for the exam.
How much does the exam cost?
The forensic exam is always free. For sexual assault patients, the emergency room visit at MedStar Washington Hospital center is also free. If you require any additional testing or treatment, you will receive a bill. Your advocate can help you apply for Crime Victims Compensation and seek reimbursement for your medical bills.
What should I do to prepare for my exam?
If you’re still wearing the clothes you were wearing at the time of the assault, leave them on. If you’ve taken them off but haven’t washed them yet, bring them to the exam (in a paper bag if possible). In order to get the most evidence possible during the exam, try not to shower, go to the bathroom, eat/drink/smoke/chew gum, or douche before your exam.
Can I bring a friend with me?
You can bring a friend or other support person to the hospital with you, but they cannot be with you during the exam. Except in a few specific situations, only the patient, the forensic nurse, and an advocate will be in the exam room. The exam room itself is small and we also want to reduce the risk of cross-contamination with evidence collected.
Where do I go for an exam?
Sexual assault exams take place 24 hours a day at MedStar Washington Hospital Center Emergency Department at 110 Irving Street NW. Exams may take place at other District hospitals when the patient is not medically stable and cannot come to MedStar Washington Hospital Center. Domestic Violence exams take place 24 hours a day at MedStar Washington Hospital Center and during business hours at DCFNE's Forensic Nursing Clinic in NoMa. You can go directly to MedStar Washington Hospital Center Emergency Department and tell them that you are there for a forensic exam. The hospital will call us and a nurse and advocate will meet you at the hospital. If you would like to make an appointment for the Forensic Nursing Clinic, call 844-4HELP-DC.
What if I don't have transportation?
Our partners at NVRDC and SAFE can provide transportation to the hospital. You can reach them by calling 844-4HELP-DC.
Are DCFNE nurses mandated reporters?
Yes. The forensic nurse will explain their reporting duties before beginning the exam. If you have any concerns about mandated reporting, call 844-4HELP-DC and ask to speak to a confidential advocate before your exam.
Can the exam prove that I was assaulted?
A medical forensic exam can provide evidence that can be used during criminal investigation and prosecution or a civil case, but the exam itself cannot prove that an assault did or did not happen. However, it may give you useful information that helps you decide your next steps.