May 13, 2008— -- ELKTON, Md. (AP) - Starting next year across the country, rapevictims too afraid or too ashamed to go to police can undergo anemergency-room forensic rape exam, and the evidence gathered willbe kept on file in a sealed envelope in case they decide to presscharges.
The new federal requirement that states pay for "Jane Doe rapekits" is aimed at removing one of the biggest obstacles toprosecuting rape cases: Some women are so traumatized they don'tcome forward until it is too late to collect hair, semen or othersamples.
"Sometimes the issue of actually having to make a report topolice can be a barrier to victims, and this will allow thatbarrier to cease, to allow the victim to think about it beforedeciding whether to talk to police," said Carey Goryl, executivedirector of the International Association of Forensic Nurses.
The practice is already followed at some health clinics,colleges and hospitals around the country and by the state ofMassachusetts. But many other jurisdictions refuse to cover theestimated $800 cost of a forensic rape exam unless the victim filesa police report.
Beginning in 2009, states will have to pay for Jane Doe rapekits to continue receiving funding under the federal ViolenceAgainst Women Act, which provides tax dollars for women's sheltersand law enforcement training. States will decide how many locationswill offer anonymous rape exams and how long the evidence should bekept.
Emergency rooms typically use a "rape kit" to collect evidencefor use by police and prosecutors. It consists of microscopeslides, boxes and plastic bags for storing skin, hair, blood,saliva or semen gathered by a specially trained nurse. The victim'sinjuries are also photographed.
What makes a Jane Doe rape kit different is that it is sealedwith only a number on the outside of the envelope to identify thevictim. Police do not open the envelope unless the victim decidesto press charges.
The FBI has recommended such an option since at least 1999.