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Preserving Evidence

Regardless of whether an incident of sexual misconduct is reported to the police or the University, Northwestern strongly encourages individuals who have experienced sexual misconduct to preserve evidence to the greatest extent possible, as this will best preserve legal options for them in the future.

Below are suggestions for preserving evidence related to an incident of sexual misconduct. It is important to keep in mind that each suggestion may not apply in every incident:

General Suggestions

  • In order to best preserve their legal options in the future, individuals should consider not altering, disposing of, or destroying any physical evidence of sexual misconduct.
  • If there is suspicion that a drink may have been drugged, inform a medical assistance provider and/or law enforcement as soon as possible so they can attempt to collect possible evidence (e.g., from the drink, through urine or blood sample).
  • Individuals can preserve evidence of electronic communications by saving them and/or by taking screen shots of text messages, instant messages, social networking pages, or other electronic communications, and by keeping pictures, logs, or copies of documents that relate to the incident and/or perpetrator.
  • Even if survivors choose not to make a complaint with the University regarding sexual misconduct, they may consider speaking with University Police or other law enforcement to preserve evidence. Please note that, as University employees, University Police would have to report the concern to the Office of Equity.

Physical Evidence Preservation Suggestions Specific to Sexual Assault

  • Because some evidence, particularly evidence that may be located on the body, dissipates quickly (within 48-96 hours), individuals who have been sexually assaulted and wish to preserve evidence should go to a hospital or medical facility immediately to seek a medical examination and/or evidence collection. Under Illinois law, any cost for an emergency medical or forensic examination for a victim of sexual violence that is not covered by private insurance or Illinois Public Aid will be covered by the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, and should not be billed to the patient.
  • An individual who has been sexually assaulted and wishes to preserve evidence should, if possible, not shower, bathe, douche, smoke, brush teeth, eat, drink, use the bathroom, or change clothes or bedding before going to the hospital or seeking medical attention.
  • If the individual who has been sexually assaulted decides to change clothes or bedding, and wishes to preserve evidence, they should not wash the clothes worn or bedding used during the assault, and should bring them to a hospital, medical facility, or the police in a non-plastic (e.g. paper) bag.
  • In Illinois, individuals who have been sexually assaulted may allow the collection of evidence even if they choose not to make a report to law enforcement. After the evidence is collected, Illinois law requires hospital staff to store it for two weeks. A sexual assault evidence collection kit may not be released by an Illinois hospital without written consent from the survivor.

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