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Montana's Problem

With the use of modern technology, licensing boards, and "expert" testimony, obtaining a rape kit has become a more systemic evidence collection process. It continues to ignore the basic needs of victims.


Rape Kit Basics

Today, the process is long, demoralizing, shameful, and exhausting. With the advancement of modern technology, rape kits are now typically taken with the entire exam on video. This means most of the exam, a camera is hoisted up above the victim’s body and bent to track nurse’s movements in their genitial area. While the nurses taking the examination are trained and licensed professionals in the field, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, are not able to provide the compassion and mindfulness needed to ensure that both collected evidence is admissible in court and that victims feel dignified.

To ensure that evidence is preserved, victims may not shower, eat, drink, or remove clothing prior to an examination. In some cases, clothing is to be kept as evidence.

After examinations are completed, victims are given the option to take STI, HIV, and pregnancy prevention medication. They are given a copy of discharge instructions which indicate performance of an exam, test results, medications received, follow-up exam recommendations, and a business card. Discharge instructions indicate where the kit will be sent. Rape kits are held for up to one year and now allow survivors to track testing and chain of custody.

In Montana, the non-profit sector assists survivors by providing resources. At discharge, victims are handed a folder containing handouts with mismatched information. In many cases, these resources fall short of what a survivor may need to know through the coping process, criminal or civil justice system, or a Title IX investigation.


The Task of the First Shower

The first shower after an assault is particularly difficult. Showers can be traumatic in inconsiderable ways. This includes association by smell, like toiletry products used after getting home.



Our senses, often times are heightened in time of great stress and panic. Research has shown that under stress previously neutral scents become unpleasant and survivors may be triggered by something that they have tasted or smell during their time of trauma. This may make it difficult for survivors to continue to use the same toiletry products that are common and may lead to triggering the survivor in unexpected scenarios.


Lack of Safety

Some victims may not be able to return home for their own safety and may need last minute toiletries to use at a friend's home. Safety after trauma is one of the most important factors in determining whether a survivor will return home after the assault. If the assault happened in their home, they may not feel safe to return. They may also need the support of friends and family, and may not want to be seen in public. Family and friends may not have the time to leave and grab toiletries and may not have the knowledge on trauma and the body’s senses.



The cost for a single kit is staggering. The physical evidence collection kits can cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000. Montana estimates $1,092 in labor for every examination. With expenses continuing to increase, survivors are often left without the basic needs. What happens after a rape kit is taken, is typically less important to the health care facilities than collecting the evidence itself and as a result, jeopardizes a survivors ability to feel worthy and dignified. The Legislature and private and public hospitals who pay for the kits and the labor are already hesitant to continue to financially support instances in which they do not make money.

With every rape report that the State of Montana receives and every rape kit that is taken, they are asked to increase their funding to the criminal justice system. Rape is a costly crime and rarely results in a conviction. To take a case from rape kit to trial it costs a state up to $240,000, immediate medical costs totaling just over $2,000. This estimate does not include crime victims compensation, which is difficult for victims to get and must be paid back if they receive any other form of monetary assistance form the perpetrator. Rape is the single most expensive crime in our system and costs the united States $127 billion a year. This leaves little room for services to victims that may deplete traumatic responses in the direct aftermath of an assault.


In short, the nature of rape kits as evidence collection treats victims as a mere a crime scene. The cost of sexual violence to taxpayers diminishes the financial ability for the public sector to provide humanitarian resource allocation to survivors. The private sector assistance could be improved.

The Dignity Project Montana has set out to fill these gaps, provide basic needs, and assist survivors in feeling like they are more than a box filled with DNA samples and swabs.

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