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December 6, 2023 Dec 06, 2023 8 min read

How to Prepare for a Rape Kit Exam


  • Rape kit exams should ideally be completed within 72 hours of an assault (the sooner the better)
  • If possible, assault victims should avoid any activities that could interfere with the evidence collection process, including bathing, showering, oral hygiene care, washing clothes, or having sexual intercourse
  • Once you’ve located a hospital that offers rape kit exams, prepare by bringing all clothing and other items you had during the assault, as well as a change of clothes (including undergarments) and some snacks and water if possible
  • Anyone preparing for a rape kit exam should set aside several hours for the exam, as they can sometimes last up to six hours
  • If possible, consider bringing a friend or other supportive loved one with you for emotional support and take time for self care after the exam

If you’ve decided to pursue a sexual assault forensic exam (SAFE, also known as a rape kit exam), you’re probably wondering what to expect and how to prepare for your appointment. Because of their connection to the legal system, these exams are quite different from a typical doctor’s appointment and require a more prep. Below, we’ve spelled out nine straightforward steps to help you prepare for a rape kit.

For anyone who might still be trying to decide whether or not to pursue a rape kit exam, check out our article “Should I Get a Rape Kit Done? (Pros and Cons).

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How to Prepare for a Rape Kit Exam (9 Steps)

1. Act quickly

Sexual assault evidence collection is most effective within 72 hours of an assault. So, the sooner you can get to a hospital for a rape kit exam, the better.


In some places, sexual assault victims must pursue an exam within 24 hours of an assault, otherwise evidence collection is not viewed as legally viable. Elsewhere, victims may have up to two weeks to complete an exam. After this legally sanctioned window has passed, victims can no longer pursue a rape kit exam.

To find out what the timeframe requirements are in your area, contact your local hospital or sexual assault advocacy organization.

2. Locate a hospital that offers rape kit exams

Unfortunately, not all hospitals offer rape kit exams, so figuring out where to go can sometimes be complicated. The easiest way to find out if the hospital nearest you offers these exams is to call them directly. If they don’t, they should be able to direct you to the closest location that does.


You can also try calling your local sexual assault advocacy organization or crisis centre to find out where to go for a rape kit exam in your area. To find a full list of these resources in your area, use the Go Thrive Go search tool.


For more detailed information on this topic, check out our article “Where to Go for a Rape Kit Exam.”

3. Avoid showering, changing, or brushing your teeth

Although your first instinct after an assault will probably be to shower and change your clothes, it’s best to avoid these activities before your exam if possible. The evidence collected during a rape kit exam relies on the DNA left behind on your body and clothing to identify the perpetrator. Any activity that could damage or remove DNA evidence from your body or clothing before your exam should be avoided, including bathing, showering, changing or washing clothes, tooth or tongue brushing, flossing, mouth washing, douching, etc.

4. Bring all clothing and accessories you had during the assault

As mentioned above, it’s best to go to your exam wearing the same clothes you had on during the assault, assuming you’ve gone straight to the hospital without changing. If some time has passed, it’s still important to bring any clothing or other items that might yield important DNA evidence during the collection process. This includes undergarments, shoes, bags, or anything else the perpetrator might have touched. If you are not willing or able to wear the same clothes you wore during the assault to your exam, remove them carefully and place them into a clean paper bag and bring them to the hospital with you.

5. Pack an extra change of clothes, including underwear

Because the evidence collection process involves examining items of your clothing, it’s a good idea to bring along an extra change of clothes, including underwear. Due to the nature of evidence collection, you might not get your clothing items back after submitting them.


While you won’t be required to submit any of your belongings into the evidence kit if you don’t want to, undergarments can be a critical source of perpetrator DNA.

6. Bring snacks and water

Rape kit exams are infamous for taking several hours, so arrive prepared with snacks and water to keep yourself fed and hydrated while you wait. If you aren’t able to bring these things yourself, ask the healthcare providers assisting you for water and a small snack if you get hungry or thirsty.

7. Bring a friend

Bringing a friend or other supportive loved one with you to your exam is a great way to feel less alone or emotionally overwhelmed while you wait. The process can be a long one, but knowing you have a friend waiting for you who can drive you home afterward can help you feel more emotionally prepared and supported during this difficult process. In most cases, your support person can also accompany you into the exam room if you choose.


If you are unable to bring a friend or loved one with you to your exam, try reaching out to an advocacy organization to request accompaniment. Trained social workers known as sexual assault advocates are available in most areas to accompany victims during medical and legal procedures. Advocates are trained to answer questions, provide emotional support, and inform you of your options for follow-up services. They can also help connect you with the designated authorities you’ll need to speak to if you decide to report your assault or pursue legal measures.


To find an advocacy organization near you, use the Go Thrive Go search tool and search for “Advocacy / Accompaniment” services in your area.

8. Prepare to wait

Sexual assault forensic exams are infamous for lasting anywhere from two to six hours, depending on wait times and the extent of your exam. It’s best not to plan anything else shortly after your exam, since you won’t know exactly how long the process will take. It can also be helpful to bring something comforting to read, listen to, or watch in case you end up facing long wait times.

9. Plan for self care

No matter how prepared you are for your exam, the process will probably still feel emotionally jarring, overwhelming, or even re-traumatizing. For this reason, it’s a great idea to plan ways to offer yourself extra support and comfort after your exam. This can look like setting aside time for a long bath, making plans to talk with a trusted friend, or even just making time for sleep and recovery. Regardless of how you practice self care, remember to give yourself of grace, patience, and compassion after navigating this difficult and invasive process.


Pursuing a sexual assault forensic exam can be overwhelming for many reasons, but being as prepared as possible can help the process feel less daunting. The most important things to remember are that rape kit exams are most effective when they’re completed soon after an assault, showering before an exam can interfere with the evidence collection process, and self care after the exam can be a big help in your recovery process. 

Summary :

Preparing effectively for a rape kit exam can help a fairly invasive and emotional process feel slightly easier. To prepare, you’ll want to act as quickly as you can after an assault occurs and locate a hospital near you that offers rape kit exams. Unfortunately, not all hospitals do. Once you know where you can go for your exam, avoid showering or any other activity that could interfere with the evidence-collection process. If possible, bring all clothing worn during the assault to your exam. Because your clothing will be involved in the evidence collection process, it’s a good idea to bring an extra change of clothes (including underwear) for after your exam. Other ways to support yourself through this process include packing snacks and water, bringing a supportive friend along, and making time for self care after your exam.

About the Author

Dana Anastasia (they/them) is an independent writer, editor, podcaster, and artist. With a degree in interdisciplinary sociology and a background in domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy, Dana brings a keen awareness of victim and survivor needs and experiences to their work. Learn more at


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