College Consortium: Sexual Assault Forensic Exams - Increasing Access for College Survivors

Feb 10th, 2023

By Natalie Scott, SAFE/SART Policy Advocate

College students are at an increased risk for sexual violence and sexual assault. According to the Association of American Universities, 1 in 8 college students experience sexual assault (AAU, 2019). Additional research found that men ages 18-24 who are students have a sexual assault victimization rate of 17%, and male nonstudents of the same age group had a victimization rate of 4% (Sinozich and Langton, 2014). Furthermore, 23.1% of transgender and non-binary college students have experienced sexual assault (Cantor et. al, 2020). It’s also important to note that first-year college students are at a higher risk for sexual assault, especially in their first few months of college (Kimble et al, 2008).

This is particularly concerning, as first year students are often unfamiliar with their college area and away from their typical support system. Research reports that within the first few months of the semester, August through November, more than 50% of college sexual assaults occur (Kimble et al, 2008). With such high rates of sexual violence among college students, it is incredibly important that they have access to interventions, both to prevent sexual assault and offer support after a sexual assault has occurred.

One element of support includes a Sexual Assault Forensic Exam, or SAFE. It is important that student sexual assault survivors are aware of their right to receive a SAFE at no cost in Maryland. SAFEs are administered by Forensic Nurse Examiners (FNEs), specially trained and trauma-informed medical professionals.

A SAFE includes two major components: medical examination and evidence collection. During the medical examination, FNEs provide assessment and treatment of injuries, STI testing, pregnancy prevention, and address other health concerns survivors may have after experiencing a sexual assault. The second component of a SAFE is evidence collection. This portion is also administered by an FNE and involves DNA collection, collection of physical evidence, and photos. This evidence is then placed into a Sexual Assault Evidence Kit (SAEK).

The collection of this kit does not mean that law enforcement must be involved. Evidence collection can be done anonymously if a survivor wishes. This means that their personal information and description of the assault will not be available to law enforcement and their kit will not be tested until they report the crime. This gives survivors the opportunity to have evidence collected from their assault, with or without police involvement. This is a way for survivors to preserve evidence if they decide to report the crime to the police in the future. Additionally, it is important to note the timeframe in which a SAFE can be done. A SAFE, according to Maryland law, can be done up to 15-days after a sexual assault has occurred, although it is recommended to do it as soon as possible (Md. Code, Crim. Proc. § 11-1007).

When considering the previous statistics mentioned of college students experiencing sexual violence and the importance of receiving a SAFE after a sexual assault, several important concerns come about. To begin, many college students attend colleges and universities that are in a different area, state, or country from where they grew up. Because of this, they may be unaware of the state’s laws and protocols when it comes to sexual assault. It is important to note that not all hospitals in Maryland offer SAFEs, but survivors have access to SAFEs in most jurisdictions in Maryland.

It is also important to note that there has been a recent rise of the use of at-home sexual assault evidence kits at colleges and universities. While these kits aim to give survivors the opportunity to collect evidence from their own home, they do raise concern as an alternative to SAFEs. SAFEs provide the opportunity to receive medical care and treatment for injuries for survivors at no cost. Receiving this medical care can be crucial to the physical well-being of survivors and it is important to consider this element when survivors are deciding which course of action is best for them. 

To support Maryland colleges and universities in providing this information to their students and campus community, MCASA created a guide titled Sexual Assault Forensic Exam (SAFE) Programs for Maryland Colleges and Universities. The guide lists each of Maryland’s higher education institutions and the SAFE program that is closest to them. The guide includes the address and phone number of the hospital, distance via car, whether or not public transportation is accessible, and Google Maps instructions. We hope this will increase college survivors access to information that can help them get the care they need. It is critical to note that due to staffing changes, the services provided by SAFE programs may change, so it is recommended survivors contact the closest SAFE program to confirm services provided and if necessary receive a referral to an alternative SAFE program.

The overall goal of this project is to continue to offer support for survivors, specifically those in at-risks populations. Sexual assault can be an isolating experience, especially for college students as they are often in a new and unfamiliar area and away from one’s typical support system such as family and friends. It is very important for service providers, advocates, educators, and college and university staff to be aware of resources for survivors and share this knowledge with their students and campus community.


American Association of Universities. AAU Campus Climate Universities. (2019). Retrieved from:

Catnor et al. Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct. (2020). Retrieved from:

Kimble et al. Risk of Unwanted Sex for College Women: Evidence for the Red Zone. (2008). Retrieved from:

Md. Code, Crim. Proc. § 11-1007 (2022).

Sofi Sinozich and Lynn Langton. Rape and Sexual Assault Victimization Among College-Age Females, 1995–2013, U.S Department of Justice. (2014). Retrieved from:

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