Directly after a sexual assault, a victim typically submits to what technically is called a medical forensics examination. The process oftentimes is called a rape kit procedure. A medical forensic examination is a highly invasive process. More than a few sexual assault victims have said that they felt almost like they were revictimized through the medical forensic examination. More and more states, and individual jurisdictions across the country, are employing professional victim advocates to aid, support, and assist victims of sexual assault through the medical forensic examination.
The Immediate Aftermath of a Sexual Assault
With no intent to minimize a sexual assault itself, the experiences associated with the immediate aftermath of this type of crime can be horrifically traumatic as well. Due to the nature of the criminal justice system, and the overarching need to collect and preserve evidence of a sex crime, a victim of this type of assault faces what fairly can be called an overwhelming gauntlet.
Directly after experiencing what likely is one of the worst, if not the worst, experience in a lifetime, a victim of a sexual assault faces a highly invasive medical forensics examination. In addition, a sexual assault victim likely is to be interviewed by a number of individuals about what fairly can be described as a truly traumatic experience. These individuals include:
- Police officers
- Social workers
Historically, victims of sexual assault “were on their own” during the period immediately following a sexual assault. Although some victims were able to call upon a family member or friend to be at their sides in the aftermath of a sexual assault, some were not comfortable taking that step. Moreover, even if a sexual assault victim was able to have a family member or friend at their side, such as a supporter likely had not more idea of what to expect following a sexual assault than did the actual victim.
As a result, a slowly growing number of states make available to a victim of sexual assault a trained victim advocate directly after the crime as well as before and during the medical forensics examination. Indeed, in some states like California, medical personnel must advise a sexual assault victim of her right to have professional victim advocate present during the medical forensic examination.
The presence of a third party during a medical examination of the type performed on a victim following a sexual assault normally would defeat the doctor-patient privilege. A doctor-patient privilege only exists if the communication between a doctor and patient is in private.
California, and most of the states that make victim advocates available during medical forensic examinations, have extended the law governing privilege to include a victim advocate. In other words, doctor-patient privilege is preserved even if a duly authorized victim advocate is present during a medical forensic examination and associated discussions between doctor and sexual assault victim.
Provide for Basic Needs of Sexual Assault Victim
A very basic responsibility of an advocate in a medical forensic examination setting is to ensure that the basic needs of sexual assault victim are met. These basic needs include ensuring that a victim has proper clothing and access to such basic necessities like something to drink.
Advise Victim of Medical Forensic Examination Process
A crucial role of a victim advocate in the aftermath of a sexual assault is to advise a victim of what is involved in the medical forensic examination process. In a majority of cases, a victim of sexual assault does not have prior experience undergoing a medical forensic examination. Thus, a victim has no real idea of what to expect. There is a general consensus among professionals as well as among victims of sexual assault that when a victim has knowledge of what is going to occur during a medical forensic examination, the process at least a bit easier for a sexual assault victim to get through the process.
Limit Questioning of Victims as Much as Possible
As mentioned previously, a victim of sexual assault can be subjected to a considerable amount of questioning from different people directly before, during, and after a medical forensic examination. Having to respond to an inquiry about the circumstances surrounding a sexual assault s grueling enough without that process having to be repeated multiple times. Thus, another of the important tasks of an advocate is to attempt to minimize the number of times the a victim needs to share what occurred.
Advocate Presence During the Medical Forensic Examination Process
Another vital role of an advocate is for that professional to be present during the medical forensic examination itself. It is the victim’s decision as to whether or not the advocate is in the room during the examination. The general recommendation is that the advocate be present in the room with the sexual assault victim during the entirety of the medical forensic examination. In so many ways it is precisely during the actual exam that a victim of sexual assault most needs an experienced advocate nearby.
Resource Referrals to Victim
Finally, a role of the advocate in regard to a medical forensic examination is the provision of other resources for a victim or sexual assault. These resources can include everything from emotional and mental health services to a crime scene cleanup company.