Rape kits for "Jane Doe"

States to be required to offer anonymous evidence collection.

Published May 14, 2008 2:30PM (EDT)

Let's say -- God forbid -- you've been raped. Let's say you make it as far as the E.R., but once you get there, as is not uncommon, you're too traumatized/ashamed/worried about the fact that you were doing drugs, etc. to submit evidence for the "rape kit" used by police and prosecutors. So let's say you go home and shower the whole thing away. And let's say that only then do your friends persuade you to go to the police. Well, by then, your best evidence may have gone down the drain.

Such a scenario is reportedly one of the biggest obstacles to prosecuting rape cases: Many women do not come forward until, forensically speaking, it may be too late. For that reason, the FBI has -- at least since 1999 -- recommended the option of "Jane Doe rape kits," which identify their source only by a number, and which are opened by police only if charges are pressed. And now, according to wire reports, all states will next year be required to pay for the kits in order to continue receiving funding under the federal Violence Against Women Act, which helps support women's shelters and relevant law enforcement training.

According to the Associated Press, some clinics, colleges and hospitals -- along with the state of Massachusetts -- already offer the anonymous kits. Elsewhere, though, institutions have refused to cover the cost of a rape exam unless the victim goes to the cops.

"At Union Hospital in Elkton [Md.], forensic nurse Chris Lenz said Jane Doe testing is not offered unless a medical professional fears the victim will leave without the option," the AP reported. "'Of course we encourage reporting. That's what we would like. But when they're adamant they don't want to report -- if we think, She's going to walk out if she has to go through with this -- that's when we offer it,' Lenz said."

Perhaps not surprisingly, some grumbling, here and there, has begun; the false-report bugaboo hath arisen. Could these kits be an extra-handy tool for Jane "Don't Mess With Me or I'll Charge You With Rape"? Er, I guess. And an actual false report (when pursued, which would ultimately require dealing with the police) is, of course, serious business. But come on. When, according to the U.S. Justice Department, only 41 percent of rapes and other sexual assaults are reported to police, we've got to side with Jane Doe.

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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