UT Now Offering Sexual Assault Forensic Exams


UT-Austin students who are survivors of sexual assault can now get free post-assault forensic exams on campus.

The new policy, which went into effect on Nov. 16, is the result of a partnership between University Health Services and SafePlace, a sexual and domestic violence resource center.

In a post-assault exam—sometimes called a rape kit—a specially trained nurse gathers forensic evidence that can later be used in legal proceedings, should the survivor choose to file a police report. Previously, the exams were only available at area hospitals and at the SafePlace campus in East Austin; now students can choose to have an exam on campus in the Student Services Building. Trained sexual assault nurse examiners from SafePlace will come to campus to perform the exams.

University Health Services director Jamie Shutter says the change gives assault victims more choices.

“It helps them leave their options open for the future if they decide to go forward with legal action,” Shutter says. Since not all students can find reliable transportation, the new option to stay on campus broadens access to the exam, she says. Students may still choose to have the exam at SafePlace if they prefer.

Another advantage is that there will be no cost to students. As KUT reported earlier this year, those who get the exam at a hospital are often hit with medical bills. Although the state pays for the cost of the exam itself, there may still be other charges, like emergency room fees and medications. A 2011 study from UT’s Institute on Domestic Violence and Assault found that the average bill in Texas was $900-$1,200. College students covered under their parents’ health insurance plans may also have privacy concerns, since family members could learn about the assault from an insurer.

The exams must be conducted soon after an assault—within 120 hours if the police are involved, and within 96 hours if the police are not involved—and the evidence will be kept for two years. Students’ medical records will not be updated unless they also see a UHS provider for a physical injury. Privacy laws protect the content of students’ medical records. Anonymous information about the assault will be submitted to university records, but choosing to have an exam does not require filing a report with the university or the police.

UT-Austin is one of only a few universities nationwide to offer the exams, according to SafePlace director of community advocacy Emily LeBlanc. “I know of only a handful of universities across the country offering SAFEs on campus, and I don’t know of any in Texas,” LeBlanc told the Austin Chronicle.

Shutter says that the best way for students to initiate the exam process is to call SafePlace, because the center operates a 24/7 hotline staffed with specialists trained in the details of sexual assault cases. Students can also start the process by calling the Counseling and Mental Health Center or the UHS Nurse Advice Line.

In addition to collecting forensic evidence, the exams are a chance for the university to offer resources to victims. Students who come in for the exams will be given information about counseling, medical services, and Voices Against Violence, a UT program focused on sexual assault prevention and survivor support.

“We just really strongly encourage survivors to consider a sexual assault exam right after an assault,” Shutter says. “As you can imagine, it’s a very traumatic time period and individuals may not be thinking very clearly in terms of what they want to do. But it’s a good idea for them to at least be aware that there is this option.”

Photo by KamrenB Photography


Tags: , , ,


No comments

Be the first one to leave a comment.

Post a Comment