UHS to offer post-assault forensic exams for survivors of sexual assault

Zainab Calcuttawala

Sexual assault survivors will be able to complete their sexual assault forensic exams (SAFE) on campus as a result of a new University Health Services policy that allows guest nurses from SafePlace Austin to tend to survivors on-campus, according to UHS director Jamie Shutter.

Starting Nov. 16, the exams will be conducted free of charge at the Student Services Building by sexual assault nurse examiners. Students can either contact UHS, Voices Against Violence or SafePlace to set up an exam on campus, Shutter said.

SAFEs are designed to collect forensic evidence from the survivor’s body hours after the assault happens. State guidelines require survivors to complete the exam within 96 hours of the incident to ensure the collection of the best evidence, Shutter said. If the survivor has already decided to file a case with law enforcement, that time period is extended to 120 hours, she said.

“State law allows for an exam within 96 hours of the incident,” Shutter said. “However, our local law enforcement agencies recognize that we can get good evidence outside of that window, so they have agreed to extend their approvals to 120 hours.”

A survivor is not obligated to report the incident to the police or the University by completing the exam, according to Shutter. The information remains sealed as a medical record unless the survivor chooses to pursue further action.

The exams are administered under the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Non-Reported Sexual Assault Evidence Program, which allows survivors to obtain a forensic exam without incurring any costs to themselves or the health care facility that conducts the exam. Under the program, the evidence collected through the exam will be shipped to a biowarehouse in Houston where it will be kept securely for two years or until the survivor releases the evidence, whichever comes first, according to the Texas DPS website.

Before UHS allowed SafePlace nurses to conduct the exams on-campus, survivors had to visit the Eloise House on the SafePlace campus near Riverside to complete the exam, Shutter said.
Shutter said the exam allows victims to take their time in making the decision to file criminal charges against the assailant.

“This is a great option for sexual assault victims to keep their options open,” Shutter said. “[The period] immediately after sexual assaults is a very difficult time. These exams allow them to go ahead and have that evidence collection and just leave their options open to the possibility of filing charges in the future if they choose to do so.”