Frequently Asked Questions






Q: What is Intimate Partner Violence (IPV)?
A: Physical, psychological or sexual harm by a current or former spouse or partner, with whom you may or may not currently live.  Both heterosexual and same sex individuals suffer from IPV. Click the following links to learn more about IPV: IPV Exam or visit DC Survivors and Advocates for Empowerment (DC SAFE).

Q: What is Sexual Assault?
A. Any sexual contact or behavior by a perpetrator without the victim’s explicit consent. This may include penetration or attempted penetration of the victim’s body, sexual acts like oral sex, or any other unwanted sexual activity. Click the following links to learn more about sexual assault: Sexual Assault Exam or visit the District of Columbia’s Sexual Assault Response Team (DC SART).

Q: What is a forensic nurse?
A: These specially trained nurses can conduct both medical and forensic examinations, depending on the needs of the victim.  They can also testify in court as fact and expert witnesses, if needed.


Q: I was assaulted but I don’t have any visible injuries.  Is it worth getting an exam?
A: Yes.  Strangulation, for example, almost never leaves visible markings, yet it takes only 4 pounds of pressure to cause damage (about the same amount of pressure needed to open a can of soda). We use an Alternative Light Source (ALS) during the medical forensic exam to reveal and document what your eye can’t see, which can sometimes include even past injuries.

Q: What kinds of injuries can an Alternative Light Source (ALS) show?
A: An ALS can show things not visible to the human eye, like fingerprints where pressure points were, slap marks, fluids, clothing fibers and possibly even a detailed imprint of a belt or other weapon, if used.

Q: I was strangled. Is it normal to have a sore throat/difficulty swallowing? 
A: These symptoms can be indicative of serious medical complications. Seek medical attention immediately.

Q: I was strangled but now seem OK.  If internal damage was done, will I know immediately?
A: Not necessarily.  Even though you can’t see the injury, you could be experiencing serious medical complications up to several days after the assault. Signs of internal damage include dizziness, fainting, voice changes (hoarseness), trouble swallowing or breathing, facial or neck swelling, headaches and burst blood vessels (bruising).

Q: Do you perform medical forensic exams on children too?
A: We do if they’re at least 12 for an IPV exam and 13 for a SANE exam.  Under these ages, you should go to Children’s National Medical Center, 111 Michigan Ave NW, Washington DC 20010. Their phone number is 202-476-5000.

Q: What do the exams cost?
A: There is no cost whatsoever for the medical forensic exam.  If you have health insurance, we would like to submit a claim to them to offset our expenses, but would never do so if it would jeopardize your safety in any way, due to a shared policy with the abuser. Even in that case, there would be no co-pay.

Q: Why can’t I just go to any clinic or hospital?
A: Unlike most nurses, our nurses have been specifically trained as forensic nurses, meaning they have been educated on the nuances of strangulation and other injuries, are sensitive to the needs of victims and know how to properly collect evidence and take forensic photos. Our nurses are experienced in providing court testimony, should your case go to trial. They will prioritize your safety and welcome you in an environment of acceptance and respect.

Q: Can the exam prove that I was assaulted?
A: A medical forensic exam might provide supportive evidence that can be used during criminal and civil legal proceedings but the presence or absence of such physical evidence cannot alone prove assault.

Q: Can I get help from other agencies even if I don’t get the exam?
A: Absolutely. See this extensive Resource Map created by DC SAFE for victims of domestic violence. Visit NVRDC or DC SART for resources for victims of sexual assault and violent crimes. You may also call the DC Victim Hotline at 1-844-4HELPDC to be referred to other services.

Q: Should I bring anything to the exam?
A: If you’re still wearing the clothes you were wearing at the time of the assault, leave them on.  If you’ve taken them off but haven’t washed them yet, bring them to the exam (in a paper bag if possible).  If there are other items from the crime scene that can be stored as evidence for you (weapon, etc), you can bring those as well.

Q: If I was a victim outside of DC, where can I obtain a medical forensic exam?
A: Click here for a list of medical facilities in Maryland and Virginia that provide medical forensic exams for victims of sexual assault and intimate partner violence.


Q: Do I have to press charges to get the free exam?
A: No.

Q: Why should I get the exam if I don’t plan to press charges?
A: You may find it useful in divorce/custody matters or civil/temporary protection orders.  You may also change your mind about pressing charges. Evidence will be held for 90 days even if you don’t report during that time (or until trial if you do).

Q: Do you have to report the incident if I have an exam?
A: We are not required to report Intimate Partner Violence or Sexual Assault in Washington, DC unless:

  • the injuries resulted from criminal activities
  • injuries were inflicted by a firearm
  • the victim is not legally competent or is disabled physically or cognitively
  • the abuser is a caregiver
  • a child was harmed or placed in immediate danger during the assault

Q: My boyfriend is an adult and I’m younger than 18.  Will you report him to the police?
A: We are not mandated to report dating violence unless it included use of a firearm or sexual assault or rape.

Q: I was (underage) drinking and/or taking illegal drugs when it happened. Will I get in trouble?
A: No. We maintain patient confidentiality during our exams and will not report to police without your permission, except in cases of mandatory reports (see above).

Q: What is a Civil Protection Order (CPO)?
A: Often referred to as a restraining order, a CPO is an order signed by a judge that gives you long-term local protection from your abuser.  It can order the abuser to refrain from threatening, abusing, contacting or even coming near you.  It can also order the abuser to get help in dealing with his/her violent behavior and more.  It lasts one year but can be extended. See for in-depth details.

Q: What is a Temporary Protective Order (TPO)?
A: It is similar to a CPO but is issued immediately and lasts 14 days, to cover the period before the CPO hearing. For a complete explanation of TPOs and CPOs, go to

Q: Do I need to get an exam to get a Temporary Protective Order (TPO)?
A: No, but staff at the place where you can apply for your TPO (Domestic Violence Intake Center) can help transport you to MedStar Washington Hospital Center’s Emergency Department for the exam. To learn more, visit

Q: How old do you have to be to get a Temporary Protective Order (TPO)?
A: At least 12.

Q: What are my victim rights?
A: Read through this list of important laws that have been passed to protect the rights of victims of crime and/or sexual assault/rape.


Q: I don’t speak English.
A: An interpreter will be called through a professional language line to assist you.

Q: I am deaf or hearing impaired.
A: We will have an ASL interpreter respond for the exam.