What is a PERK Exam?
A Physical Evidence Recovery Kit (PERK) exam, or forensic exam, is an exam performed by a specially-trained forensic nurse, called a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (or “SANE nurse”). PERK exams are available at Student Health during business hours and based on SANE nurse availability and at the UVA Hospital Emergency Department 24 hours a day/7 days per week.
The purpose of a PERK exam is to (1) assess the student for injuries that need treatment, (2) provide medical care (including medications to prevent infections and pregnancy), and (3) document and collect evidence of sexual contact or physical trauma (including injuries on the body and genitals), trace evidence, and identifiable DNA from the perpetrator of a sexual assault. When there is suspicion or concern that a victim may have been incapacitated by drugs or alcohol during a sexual assault, the PERK exam may include the collection of urine and/or blood samples for toxicology testing.
A PERK exam must be completed within 72 hours of an assault in most cases. The exam is conducted in a confidential health care setting. You may elect to have the exam performed and decide later whether you want to report the assault to the police and/or to the University. That decision is entirely yours to make. Evidence recovered from a PERK exam can be used to support a subsequent University or criminal complaint; however, having a PERK exam performed does not mean you must report the encounter to police or to the University.
What Should I Do/Not Do Before Obtaining a PERK Exam?
If possible, do not brush your teeth, bathe/shower, change your clothes, or use the bathroom. This is to ensure any/all available forensic evidence is preserved for collection. If you have already done some/all of these things, it is still worth obtaining a PERK exam. Forensic evidence may still be present for collection; regardless, it is also important to seek medical and mental health treatment. You may wish to bring a change of clothes with you.
What Should I Expect During a PERK Exam?
First, a medical provider will assess whether you have any urgent medical needs. Then they will ask you a few basic questions about your health history, the general nature of the assault, and any current pain or other symptoms to help understand what care you need. You do not have to share details of the assault with the clinician.
The SANE nurse may ask you about:
- any immediate medical needs,
- your medical history,
- any current medications you are taking,
- your most recent consensual sexual contact,
- the dates of your last menstrual period, if applicable, and
- any current contraceptive methods.
The SANE nurse will also ask you details about the assault to help determine how best to perform the PERK exam. In order to determine where to look for forensic evidence, the SANE nurse will ask about the types of conduct that occurred and where (in or on the body) sexual contact was made. This information will be documented in the medical record. After obtaining all this information, the SANE nurse will usually ask you to disrobe so the PERK exam may be performed. Your physical privacy will be respected throughout the forensic exam. The evidence that is collected is guided by the information you provided about the assault. The evidence may include:
- Clothing worn at the time of the assault, including underwear. If your clothing is collected and you did not bring other clothing with you, you will be provided clothing (such as sweatpants and a t-shirt) to wear home.
- Swabs for possible DNA evidence taken from areas of the body where you reported sexual contact occurred.
- Hair samples.
- Blood and/or urine samples (particularly if there is concern of drug-facilitated assault).
- Any external injuries or areas of pain and discomfort. Any injuries will be documented and often photographed. (Photographs become part of the medical record).
- Injuries to the genital and rectal areas.
You control the scope and duration of the PERK exam. You may refuse any part of the exam, even after giving full consent at the start. You may elect to stop the exam before it is completed, or you may ask to take a break. The medical staff cannot examine you or collect physical evidence without your permission. They need your signed consent to administer the PERK exam and/or to provide any forensic evidence that is collected to police and/or the University. You may ask any questions that you have about the PERK exam or any aspect of your care. All PERK exam procedures should be explained so that you understand why and how they are done; if you have any questions, you should ask the SANE nurse to explain what they are doing.
Support Before, During, and After the PERK Exam
Student Health or the UVA Hospital Emergency Department will call an advocate from the Sexual Assault Resource Agency (SARA) for any patient reporting sexual assault. You do not have to speak to the SARA advocate, but one will be available to you. You may also contact SARA yourself at (434) 295-7273 before coming to Student Health. Your interaction with SARA counselors and healthcare providers will be kept confidential. No reports or actions will be taken without your permission.
A SARA advocate can provide emotional support during the PERK exam and any related report-taking. The advocate can help explain medical procedures and the process of evidence collection. The advocate may also counsel friends or family members who may be with you. The SARA advocate may also assist you with follow-up medical and counseling appointments and may provide support throughout any subsequent criminal process. You may also have your own support person (e.g., a friend) present with you before, during, and/or after the PERK exam.
Do I Have to Report the sexual assault in order to receive medical services?
You do not have to make a report to the police, the University, or to any other agency if you choose to have forensic evidence collected. If you decide not to report to police at the time the PERK exam is performed, the evidence will typically be stored for at least two years. An officer will make a brief anonymous report without your name explaining why they are holding the evidence. They will then wait for your decision.
Who Pays for the PERK Exam and/or Related Treatment?
The Commonwealth of Virginia will pay for
- Evidence collection (PERK exam) after a sexual assault;
- STI and HIV prevention medications; and
- Emergency contraception
Additional medical services, if needed, are typically covered by private insurance. The Department of Student Health recognizes that there can be financial barriers to obtaining appropriate care and is prepared to help explore funding options if that is preventing you from seeking care. If you visit the Hospital Emergency Department and are a dependent on your parents’ health insurance plan, your parents may learn about your visit to the emergency room through their insurance company. You may discuss your payment options with the hospital accounting department.
Release of Evidence from the PERK Exam
Evidence collected may be released to police and/or the University only with your written consent or if an authorized third party provides consent on your behalf. This evidence may be used to support any subsequent criminal and/or University process.