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Forensic Compliance Frequently Asked Questions

Note: The information on this website is designed to: (a) communicate the requirements of the Violence Against Women Act (as reauthorized in 2005 and 2013), and (b) offer recommended practices for implementation. The goal is to highlight examples of communities striving to achieve a higher standard of the “spirit of the law,” rather than simply meeting the “letter of the law” for VAWA forensic compliance.  It is critically important that readers consult state laws and regulations, as well as local policies and protocols, because they may have additional requirements beyond those included in VAWA 2005 and VAWA 2013. For more information specific to your state or territory, contact the STOP Grant Administrator or coalition of advocacy organizations providing services for sexual assault victims.  A listing is available from the website for the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice.

Q What does a medical forensic exam include?
A What does a medical forensic exam include?

Generally speaking, VAWA requires that sexual assault forensic exams include, at a minimum: 
  • examination of physical trauma;
  • determination of penetration or force;
  • patient interview; and
  • collection and evaluation of evidence (28 C.F.R. § 90.2(b) (1))
However, the legislation does not require states, territories, or tribes to cover the cost for medical testing or treatment (e.g., for injuries, pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, etc.). In this regard, VAWA 2005 states that:
…the inclusion of additional procedures to obtain evidence may be determined by the state ... in accordance with its current laws, policies, and practices (§90.2(b)(2)).
In other words, VAWA does not specifically require that the cost of medical testing and treatment be covered, in order to remain compliant with the letter of the law. However, meeting the spirit of the law would encourage it. After all, medical testing and treatment is a critical component in the National Protocol on Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations (2013). It therefore furthers the goal of providing victims with prompt and unobstructed access to a medical forensic exam, which is the intention of the forensic compliance provisions. Thus, best practice is for communities to include medical testing and treatment in the exam costs that are covered for victims (e.g., for pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections).

Keep in mind that even with standardized guidance provided in documents such as the National Protocol (2013), the specific components included in a medical forensic exam varies from state to state depending on relevant statutes and administrative regulations as well as community practices. It is therefore important for stakeholders to identify what, if any, state statutes or administrative regulations exist that provide guidance on what a medical forensic exam must (or may) include. It is also important to identify what protocols are being followed across the state, territory, or tribe that may not be as a result of legal guidance, but rather local practice.
This project is supported by Grant No. 2013-TA-AX-K045 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed on this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.
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