Operational Obstetrics & Gynecology

Sexual Assault


Watch a PowerPoint Lecture

Outline Requisitions Change of Clothing
Staff Assignment History Tests
Serious Injuries Clothing Antibiotics
Notification Photographs Contraception
Consent Combings Follow-up
Gather Supplies Mouth Exam Evidence Disposition
Labels Hands Patient Instructions


Sexual assault is any sexual act performed by one person on another person without that person's consent.

This is an act of violence with medical, mental and legal issues which should to be addressed. Described below is a standard medical approach to sexual assault when resources are available and tactical circumstances allow. Should sufficient resources (personnel, equipment, laboratory support) not be available, or the tactical situation disallows full application, these general principles can usually still be followed, although with an abbreviated application.

Outline of Management

  • Evaluate the patient for serious injuries (fractures, hemorrhage, etc.) which might require immediate treatment.
  • Obtain a brief history, explaining to the patient what will occur next. Obtain patient's consent.
  • Gather all necessary materials and notify legal and administrative authorities.
  • Examine the patient, obtaining various specimens.
  • Offer treatment for VD, pregnancy.
  • Arrange for follow-up care.

Assign Staff Member to Remain with PatientFrom the beginning of the patient's interaction with you, a staff member of the same sex and preferably similar rank should be assigned to remain with the patient for the duration of her care until she leaves the medical area. This person's responsibilities are to provide psychological support, explain procedures, and serve as a witness/chaperone.

Serious injuries come first

If the patient has serious injuries, take care of the injuries before worrying about collecting legal evidence. Patient care takes priority.

Notify Legal and Administrative AuthoritiesEarly in this process, legal and administrative authorities need to be notified that a sexual assault has been reported and medical care is being provided. At sea, this would include both the Officer of the day (deck) and a representative from the NIS or Master-at-arms.

Notify the Chaplain

In many circumstances, a Chaplain serves the role of a social service provider and should be notified of this occurrence. In other circumstances, other alternatives may be more appropriate.


Consent should be obtained from the patient to:

  • Examine her and provide medical treatment.
  • Collect evidence.
  • Taking photographs (if indicated).
  • Release medical reports and evidence to legal authority.

Should consent be withheld, notify higher authorities for a determination whether a non-consensual examination will be ordered.

Gather your supplies before starting your exam

Before you actually examine the patient and begin collecting your exam specimens, it is best to gather all the materials you will need first. This saves you time and spares the patient the unpleasantness of a prolonged examination. It also helps you avoid forgetting something. If you think you have completed your exam, but you still have some supplies left, you probably forgot about something.

In many areas, "Sexual Assault Investigation Kits" are prepared in advance, containing everything needed for this examination. If a pre-packaged kit is not available, you may wish to consider making your own prior to the need for it arising. All specimens should be properly labeled and maintained by precise chain of custody.


Every specimen taken from the patient must be properly labeled. The label should include:

  • Patient's name
  • SSN
  • Date
  • Time
  • Identity of specimen (e.g., "fingernail scrapings)
  • Location (e.g., "right hand")
  • Examiner's initials

It is very helpful to make up your labels before you examine the patient. In addition to labels for all of the specimens, you will need to label lab requisitions, your medical report, and the consent forms. You will need at least 25 labels, not counting any labels used on laboratory requisitions.

Materials Needed

  • Authorization (consent) forms for examination, medical treatment, collection of specimens, release of information to proper authorities, and, if indicated, photography.
  • Laboratory requisition forms:
    • Pregnancy test (HCG)
    • VDRL or RPR
    • HIV
    • Hepatitis B
    • 3 gonorrhea cultures
    • 1 chlamydia test
  • 9 Paper envelopes
  • 2 Combs, new and unused
  • 1 Tongue blade
  • 6 twin-packs of cotton-tipped applicators, sterile
  • 1 Flashlight
  • 5 ml of distilled or sterile water (not saline)
  • 3 glass microscope slides with the frosted ends labeled in pencil with the patient's last name and SSN
  • 3 Slide holders (cardboard, not plastic). If only plastic are available, use them, but don't seal the ends...use cellophane tape to partially cover the end, allowing air to circulate freely, but disallowing the glass slide to fall out.
  • 25 Labels, with name, SSN, date, identity, location, initials
  • 2 pieces of filter paper
  • 2 Red-top blood tubes
  • 2 wooden toothpicks
  • 1 vaginal speculum
  • 1 pair of latex examination gloves
  • Lubricating jelly (such as KY or Surgilube)
  • 2 pieces of plain white paper, 8.5" x 11"
  • 3 Chocolate Agar plates
  • 1 Chlamydia test kit
  • Fresh clothing for the patient
  • Mouthwash and cup
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Betadine douche (mix small amount of Betadine with 100 ml water and load in a 30-50 ml syringe)
  • Emesis basin or similar small basin
  • Camera and color negative film for taking photographs of traumatized areas, if indicated


Find out from the patient what happened. She will need to be as specific as possible about exactly what was done to her, when, where, by whom, etc.

Write down her description of what happened, but remember that you are not in a position to judge whether a rape or sexual assault occurred...you are simply repeating what the patient told you. For example, you might say, "Patient states she was raped today at 4:00 pm by an unknown person in Storage Room #3."

You should not say, "The patient was raped at 4:00 pm," because that implies a legal conclusion on your part. You should also not say, "The patient was allegedly raped at 4:00 pm," because this use of the word "allegedly" has been interpreted by some people to imply that you didn't believe that a rape occurred. It is better to simply condense and repeat what the patient told you.

Gynecologic History

Particularly important are:

  • LMP
  • Use of contraceptives, such as BCPs
  • Any significant past gynecologic history
  • Sexual history: You need not obtain a detailed sexual history, but two issues are important to explore with the patient: first, whether she has ever had sexual intercourse prior to the sexual assault, and second, the last time sexual relations occurred within 72 hours prior to the assault.


If any clothing contains moist or dry stains, remove the clothing, let it dry completely, and place it in a paper bag (not plastic).

Use one paper bag for each piece of clothing.

Seal each bag and label it.

The clothing should be given to the law enforcement authorities and signed out using a chain of custody form.

Give the patient a property receipt card for her clothing.

Physical Exam

Start at the patient's head and work downward, explaining to her what you are doing as you examine her and collect specimens. If you encounter any physical evidence of trauma, you should draw a picture of your findings and, if possible, photograph the evidence.


Ask your ship or unit photographer to explain the operation of the camera to you, but you should take the photographs yourself, without the photographer being present, particularly if the trauma involves areas around the breasts or perineum.

Head Combings

Lightly comb the patient's hair over a plain white sheet of paper. Fold the paper over the comb and any loose hairs and place everything in an envelope. Seal and label it.

Do not pluck hairs from the head to serve as controls. While obtaining plucked hairs is recommended by some law-enforcement agencies, this is a painful and humiliating experience for the patient and almost never makes any difference in the final legal outcome of the case.

If the law-enforcement jurisdiction in which you are located later requires plucked hairs, they can ask for them at that time.


Using two dry cotton-tipped applicators, gently obtain a specimen from each side of the gums, both right and left, top and bottom. Smear the specimen on a glass slide and let it air-dry. Place the dried glass slide in a cardboard slide holder, label it and seal it. Let the cotton swabs air-dry and then place in an envelope, label it and seal it.

Use another dry cotton swab to obtain a specimen for smearing on a chocolate agar plate to test for gonorrhea. Label the plate, discard the swab and send the plate to the laboratory.

Ask the patient to place one piece of filter paper in her mouth to become saturated with saliva. She should not chew the filter paper. When saturated, ask her remove it from her mouth with her own fingers and place it in an envelope. Do not touch the filter paper yourself. Let the filter paper air-dry. Then seal it.

Carefully inspect the oral cavity, using a tongue blade and flashlight, noting any evidence of trauma.

After examining the mouth, offer the patient a toothbrush and toothpaste and mouthwash to rinse her mouth. Particularly if oral contact was involved in the assault, she will feel much better after cleansing her mouth. This will also give her a psychological break in the exam.

Neck, Back, Breasts, Abdomen and ArmsInspect and palpate for any evidence of trauma, lacerations, bruises, abrasions, tenderness, etc. Record any significant findings.


Collect fingernail scrapings using the wooden toothpicks, one for each hand. The patient may do this herself with you observing. Place the scrapings and the toothpicks in two envelopes, one for the right hand and one for the left hand. Label and seal them.

Pubic Hair Combings

Lightly comb the pubic hair over a plain white piece of paper. Fold the comb and any loose hairs into the paper, place in an envelope, label and seal it. There may not be any loose hairs.

Do not pluck hairs from the pubic area to serve as controls. While obtaining plucked hairs is recommended by some law-enforcement agencies, this is a painful and humiliating experience for the patient and almost never makes any difference in the final legal outcome of the case.

If the law-enforcement jurisdiction in which you are located later requires plucked hairs, they can ask for them at that time.

Inspect the Vulva

Using good light, carefully inspect the vulva for signs of trauma, lacerations, bruises, abrasions, etc. Note the status of the hymen.

Application of toluidine blue dye (rinsed with vinegar) can highlight recent trauma. The dye is retained by metabolically active cells.

Before Toluidine Blue Dye After Toluidine Blue Dye
Lac2.jpg (72438 bytes) Lac1TB.jpg (67675 bytes)
Lac3.jpg (75824 bytes) Lac3TB.jpg (56423 bytes)

Visualize the Cervix

Using good light, carefully inspect the vulva for signs of trauma, lacerations, bruises, abrasions, etc. Note the status of the hymen.

After moistening the vaginal speculum with warm water, insert it into the vagina and inspect the vagina and cervix for signs of trauma.

Vaginal Swab

Using two dry cotton-tipped applicators, swab the vaginal walls and posterior fornix (area beneath the cervix). Smear this specimen on a glass slide, allow it to air-dry and place it in a cardboard slide holder. Label and seal the slide holder. Let the cotton swabs air-dry and then place them in an envelope. Label and seal the envelope.

Do not try to examine the vaginal or cervical specimens for motile sperm unless you are experienced in this technique. Forensic pathologists will examine the dried slides and their skills are considerable. You may jeopardize later legal proceedings if you inartfully look for motile sperm and reach conclusions which are different than those of the forensic pathologist. From this perspective, it is better to leave the microscopic examinations to the experts unless you have experience and training in this area.

Chlamydia Culture

Use your chlamydia test kit to obtain a cervical specimen.

Gonorrhea Culture

Use a dry cotton swab and chocolate agar plate or other suitable technique to obtain a specimen from the endocervical canal. Label the plate and send it to your laboratory.

RectalLac.jpg (58760 bytes)Rectal Inspection and Examination

In the case of rectal assault, inspect carefully for tears or breaks in the skin of the rectum.

Toluidine Blue dye can be helpful. An anoscope can be used to inspect the lower rectum.

Use two cotton-tipped applicators, moistened with distilled water, to obtain a specimen from just inside the rectal sphincter. Smear this specimen on a glass slide, allow it to air-dry and place it in a cardboard slide holder. Label and seal the slide holder. Let the cotton swabs air-dry and then place them in an envelope. Label and seal the envelope.

Use another moistened cotton-tipped applicator and a chocolate agar plate to test your patient for gonorrhea. Send this specimen to your lab.

Bimanual Exam

After collecting all specimens, perform a bimanual exam. Using the lubricating jelly, palpate each of the pelvic structures, noting any enlargement or tenderness.

Betadine Douche

Once the pelvic examination is completed, a cleansing douche of Betadine mixed in water will generally be appreciated by the patient. 50 to 100 cc of solution can be used to rinse the vagina, using a 30 or 50 cc syringe. Collect the rinse in the emesis basin and discard.

Let the patient shower and change clothes

This is very important for her psychological health. Usually, there are no major physical injuries after a sexual assault, but the psychological injuries can be great. A part of your treatment will be to reassure her that she's "OK" and to assist her in the cleansing process (physical and mental). Once the specimens are collected, she should be given the opportunity to shower and change clothes, in a sense "washing away" some of the unpleasantness of her recent experience. Some women will decline, preferring to shower later, but many will appreciate the offer and will feel better afterward.

Blood and Urine Tests

  • VDRL or RPR - repeat in 1 month
  • Hepatitis B - repeat in 1 month
  • HIV - repeat in 1 month and 6 months
  • Pregnancy test - repeat weekly until next menstrual flow
  • 1 extra red-top tube for the Investigator (MAA or NIS)
  • Place 4-5 drops of the patient's blood (taken from the needle or drawn from one of the red-top tubes) on a piece of filter paper and let it air-dry. Place the filter paper in an envelope, label it and seal it.

Offer Antibiotics

The risk of acquiring gonorrhea from a sexual assault is approximately 6 to 12% (CDC), and the risk of acquiring chlamydia probably a little higher. The risk of acquiring syphilis is estimated at about 3%. The risk of developing AIDS from a sexual assault cannot be precisely estimated as it depends on too many factors but is considered to be quite low.

Read more about risk of acquiring HIV following sexual assault

  • Standard prophylaxis:
    • Ceftriaxone 125 mg IM, plus
    • Azithromycin 1 g PO once (or Doxycycline 100 mg PO BID x 7 days), plus
    • Metronidazole 2 g PO once
  • Alternative prophylaxis:
    • Spectinomycin 2 gm IM, plus
    • Doxycycline 100 mg PO BID x 7 days
  • During Pregnancy:
    • Ceftriaxone or Spectinomycin, plus
    • Erythromycin 250 mg PO QID x 7 days

Postexposure hepatitis B vaccination (without HBIG) should adequately protect against HBV. Hepatitis B vaccine should be administered to victims of sexual assault at the time of the initial examination. Follow-up doses of vaccine should be administered 1-2 and 4-6 months after the first dose. For those known to have completed a full HBV vaccination program, additional Hepatitis B vaccine need not be given.

Offer Emergency Contraception

The exact risk of pregnancy following a sexual assault is estimated at about 2-4%, but depends to a large extent on where the woman was in her menstrual cycle and, of course, whether she was protected by some contraceptive method.

Taking 2 medium-strength BCPs (Ovral) right away and again 12 hours later has been used successfully by many physicians to prevent pregnancy. Alternatively, 4 LoOvral can be taken immediately and again 12 hours later.

Such a dosage is well-tolerated by most women, but half will experience nausea which might require anti-nausea medication. After using this protocol, the woman's normal menstrual cycle should not be disturbed and she will not have any withdrawal bleeding after she completes this 4-pill regimen.

This method reduces the risk of pregnancy by 75%. It's exact mechanism of action is not known but may involve postponing ovulation and may involve prevention of implantation. Should a pregnancy occur despite the use of emergency contraception there is no convincing evidence of any harm to the fetus, although theoretical concerns will likely always be present.

You need to advise your patient of these issues, and let her decide whether she wishes to take emergency contraception.. Whatever her decision, you should document in the medical record your discussion and her decision.

Read more about Emergency Contraception

Follow-up exam

About 2 weeks after the assault, the patient should be re-examined for any lingering injury and also to provide reassurance that at least physically, everything is totally back to normal. At this time, she will have had a menstrual flow (typically), and she can have her follow-up labs (HIV, VDRL, Hep B) done at the same time. This will also allow you an opportunity to see how she is dealing with the psychological issues related to the assault.

Ideally, serologic tests for syphilis and HIV infection should be repeated 6, 12, and 24 weeks after the assault if initial test results were negative

For psychological reasons, some women may need to be seen earlier than 2 weeks  to reassess their adaptation to this trauma.

Release from Medical Department

After the patient has been examined and treated and all specimens collected, she may be released. She should not be released alone, but rather in the company of someone she knows and trusts. It is important that she feels she is going to a safe place.

Write your Report

Make this factual, but it need not be lengthy.

Do not draw legal conclusions about whether a sexual assault occurred or did not occur.

That is for the courts to decide.

Give Evidence to Investigator

Using a proper Chain-of-custody form, sign over the evidence to the MAA or other NIS representative, consisting of:

  • Clothing
  • Copy of Consent to Release Information
  • Copy of your Medical Report
  • Glass slide of oral specimen
  • Glass slide of vaginal specimen
  • Glass slide of rectal specimen
  • Swabs of oral specimen
  • Swabs of vaginal specimen
  • Swabs of rectal specimen
  • Filter paper with saliva
  • Filter paper with 4-5 drops of patient blood
  • Combings of head hair
  • Combings of pubic hair
  • 1 red-top tube of patient's blood

Give specimens to your lab

The laboratory specimens which you obtained for patient care reasons should go to your laboratory, but may be handled in the routine fashion and not following a Chain-of-Custody procedure. They will consist of:

  • Gonorrhea plate from the mouth
  • Gonorrhea plate from the cervix
  • Gonorrhea plate from the rectum
  • Chlamydia test kit from the cervix
  • Pregnancy test specimen
  • Red-top tube for VDRL, Hep B and HIV

Give prescriptions and Instructions to patient

The patient should have everything she needs to get her follow-up medications. In addition, she should have written instructions on where to be and for what purpose:

  • Antibiotics
  • BCPs (antiemetics optional but recommended)
  • Dates for weekly pregnancy tests
  • Date for 2-week follow-up exam and labs (VDRL, Hep B and HIV)
  • Date for 6, 12 and 24-week follow-up lab (VDRL, HIV)
  • Name and phone number or location of law enforcement Investigator
  • Name of Chaplain (or social service person) and phone number or location.

The special case of children

Children who are victims of sexual assault need special attention and may require some modifications of the general outline.

Small children may not have an appreciation of exactly what happened to them, or may be unable to express themselves. Some experienced examiners will have the child use dolls to demonstrate what happened.

During sexual assault of a prepubertal child, serious internal injuries may occur, including laceration of the vaginal wall and tearing of the uterus from its' supports at the top of the vagina. Rectal injury may occur. Because of this, it may be necessary to obtain other tests (upright abdomen looking for free air in the abdomen), or to examine a child under anesthesia to determine the extent of the injuries. Intra-abdominal injuries promptly diagnosed and treated will usually have an excellent prognosis. The same injuries diagnosed after peritonitis has become well-established are more grave.

Read more about the evaluation of children who are victims of sexual assault

Home    Introduction    Medical Support of Women in Field Environments    The Prisoner of War Experience    Routine Care    Pap Smears    Human Papilloma Virus    Contraception    Birth Control Pills    Vulvar Disease    Vaginal Discharge    Abnormal Bleeding    Menstrual Problems    Abdominal Pain    Urination Problems    Menopause    Breast Problems    Sexual Assault    Normal Pregnancy    Abnormal Pregnancy    Normal Labor and Delivery    Problems During Labor and Delivery    Care of the Newborn

Bureau of Medicine and Surgery
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Operational Obstetrics & Gynecology - 2nd Edition
The Health Care of Women in Military Settings
CAPT Michael John Hughey, MC, USNR
January 1, 2000

This web version of Operational Obstetrics & Gynecology is provided by The Brookside Associates Medical Education Division.  It contains original contents from the official US Navy NAVMEDPUB 6300-2C, but has been reformatted for web access and includes advertising and links that were not present in the original version. This web version has not been approved by the Department of the Navy or the Department of Defense. The presence of any advertising on these pages does not constitute an endorsement of that product or service by either the Department of Defense or the Brookside Associates. The Brookside Associates is a private organization, not affiliated with the United States Department of Defense. All material in this version is unclassified.

This formatting 2006 Medical Education Division, Brookside Associates, Ltd.
All rights reserved

*These videos are an added feature, provided by the Brookside Associates Medical Education Division. They were not present in the original edition.


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