The Practical Aspects of a Rape Investigation

Rape is generally defined by sexual contact that has been forced or coerced and is nonconsensual. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), one in six women in America have been the victim of rape or attempted rape. Even more alarming, more than half of all rapes are reported to the proper authorities -- with only a 50.8 percent chance of arrest. This means 15 of 16 rapists walk free.

  1. Forensic Medical Examinations

    • Medical professionals gather both information and evidence from the victim immediately following the attack to preserve the integrity of the evidence. Pertinent information includes the details of the attack in her own words, information on the attacker and the victim's previous medical history. She must have a thorough physical examination, including an internal exam, to gather such forensic evidence as blood, semen, urine, hair and blood, before she has had a chance to shower or change her clothes. Clothing, including undergarments, are collected as evidence, and pictures are taken of any bruises or injuries. The medical professional will counsel the victim on the appropriate tests she will need to take regarding sexually transmitted diseases and follow-up care.

    Rape Kits

    • The collected evidence goes into a "rape kit" and is kept until the victim decides whether to pursue legal action against her attacker. Before 2005, victims could incur a cost for these examinations and the collection of evidence if they chose not to cooperate with the authorities and pursue the attacker. The Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005 prohibits charging victims for rape kits, regardless of their decision to press charges. States are required to either provide these exams free or provide reimbursement in full.


    • How the victim decides to respond to the attack, such as whether to press charges or not, is intensely personal. Rape is a crime that traumatizes its victims in such a way that it has lifelong repercussions. These victims are three times more likely to suffer from depression, and six times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic shock. Because of the invasive nature of these investigative tools, law enforcement and medical personnel must demonstrate sensitivity to the victim, tempered with the encouragement to press legal charges.

    Overall Impact

    • According to the FBI, the clearance rate of rape charges -- meaning the number of cases that are brought to trial or dismissed due to lack of evidence -- has been on the decline since 1996, when it was only at a rate of 52 percent. This decline is attributed to factors such as lack of leadership and ineffective investigative training.

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