What is a forensic medical examination?
A forensic medical examination is a physical examination carried out by a specially trained doctor or nurse (referred to as a forensic examiner). The focus of a forensic medical examination is to gather evidence of a sexual assault or rape.
It can help to:
- verify the type of assault that took place
- identify the person who assaulted you
- support your explanation of what happened
A forensic medical examination is most useful if it takes place within 72 hours of a sexual assault or rape, but you can choose to have one done for up to a week after an assault.
Do I have to have a forensic medical examination if I have been sexually assaulted or raped?
No. There are different options available to people who have been sexually assaulted, and a forensic medical examination is not compulsory. It will only take place with your consent.
The options available are:
- consent to a forensic examination for the purpose of reporting the assault to the police
- consent to a forensic examination and ask for the evidence to be held in case you decide to report the assault to the police at a later date
- consent to a medical examination for health reasons, but not for the collection of evidence
- decline any medical or forensic examination
If you think you might want to have a forensic medical examination, but you need to take some time to decide, or there are other urgent things you need to do first, there are some actions you can take that will help with the successful collection of evidence.
In the time between the assault and the forensic medical examination it is best to avoid the following, where possible:
- washing or showering
- eating or drinking
- cleaning your teeth
- using the toilet
It’s also better not to change your clothes. If you do need to change your clothes, put the clothing you have removed in separate paper bags (without washing it) and bring it with you. You should also bring any other items that may have traces of evidence on them.
What does a forensic medical examination involve?
A forensic medical examination takes place at a medical clinic where the necessary privacy and treatment facilities are available. You can ask for a support person, friend, or relative to be with you.
Forensic medical examinations are available across all regions of Tasmania and forensic medical staff are on call 24 hours a day.
- In Southern Tasmania, forensic medical examinations are conducted at the Sexual Assault Medical Service (SAMS) at the Royal Hobart Hospital.
- In Northern Tasmania, the SAFE team conduct forensic medical examinations at the Launceston General Hospital.
- In the North-West, the Sexual Assault & Family Violence Forensic Services team conducts forensic medical examinations at the North West Regional Hospital in Burnie.
Before starting the examination, the doctor or nurse will talk with you about what to expect and will answer any questions you might have. They will ask you to sign a consent form before they start the examination.
Next, they will ask you some questions about the assault and will write down a summary using your words.
If the examination goes ahead, you will be asked to remove your clothing, and will be given a gown to wear during the examination.
The examiner will check your body, including your genitals, for any injuries and make a written note of these. They may ask to take photographs of your injuries.
They might take swabs or samples, for example of semen or saliva that has been transferred to your body or clothing. They may also ask for blood and urine samples.
You have the right to say yes or no to the collection of any samples, and you can change your mind at any point during the examination. You can also ask to pause or take a break if you need to.
After the procedure, the forensic examiner will ask for instructions about where to send the Sexual Assault Investigation Kit (SAIK). Depending on the circumstances and your wishes, the SAIK will either be provided directly to Tasmania Police, or arrangements will be made for it to be transferred to the Forensic Science Services Tasmanian (FSST) laboratory for secure storage. These samples can be stored for up to 100 years for adults, and for children up to 125 years.
Forensic examiners will also offer advice and guidance on emergency contraception and sexually transmitted infection testing, if required.
Forensic medical examinations are kept confidential and will not be recorded on your hospital health record.
How can I request a forensic medical examination (FME)?
You can arrange an FME by contacting 1800 MYSUPPORT (1800 697 877) which is a 24 hour crisis response, information and support service, operating across Tasmania. Your call will automatically be directed to a trained professional in the region closest to you. In the North or North West, this will be Laurel House. In the South it will be SASS.
If you are aged 17 or over, they will provide you with information about the process and after seeking your consent will obtain the relevant information to pass onto the Forensic Examiner.
If you are a child or young person under the age of 17, the paediatrician on-call for sexual assault will play a key role in supporting the coordination of the FME.
You can also arrange an FME by contacting the Emergency Department at any hospital or Tasmania Police.
If an assault has occurred in a remote area of the state and the person does not want to transfer to a major hospital, an Early Examination Kit (EEK) can be used to collect some evidence. An Early Examination Kit is obtained from Tasmanian Police but is not a substitute for a forensic medical examination.
Where to get more information?
The Tasmanian Health Services provides some useful information on their website about your options following sexual assault.
Tracey Markham is an experienced Forensic Nurse Practitioner. In this article she talks in detail about her work with a specialist sexual assault service in South Australia.