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Preserving Evidence

The College of New Jersey recognizes that making the decision to report sex/gender-based harassment, sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic and dating violence, stalking, sexual exploitation, or other forms of sexual misconduct often takes time. Nevertheless, pending the decision to report, individuals are strongly encouraged to take immediate steps to preserve all evidence that might support a future report or an investigation by the Police, by TCNJ, or both.

Important information and best practices around preserving evidence both for specific types of incidents and in general, can be found below.

General Tips for Preserving Evidence


  • Record the names of any witnesses and their contact information.
    • This information may be helpful as proof of a crime, to obtain an order of protection, or to offer proof of a campus policy violation.
  • Try to recall details (e.g., physical description, names, license plate number, car description, things you could hear/see/smell/feel, etc.) and write as much down as you remember about the circumstances of the incident.
  • Make efforts to save relevant communications, such as text messages, voicemail and other phone records, emails, photos or videos, social media interactions, or other records.
    • To avoid losing this data if your device becomes damaged or replaced, it’s beneficial to save copies of these communications to a secure drive or the cloud, or even print them out and file the hard copies away in a safe place.
  • If you obtain external orders of protection (e.g., personal protection orders, injunctions, protection from abuse), please notify Campus Police Services (and local law enforcement if it happened off-campus) and the Title IX Coordinator so that those orders can be observed on campus. The Title IX Coordinator may provide interim and supportive measures such as a no contact directive.

 

Recommendations Based on Type of Incident


Sexual Assault / Rape

Preserving any available evidence after an assault allows you or your friend to leave open the option for criminal prosecution in the future without the obligation to take that step. Because some kinds of evidence may only be collected within a short time period after an assault, delaying action to preserve evidence immediately reduces the chances for a successful criminal prosecution in the future. The optimal time window for the collection of evidence is less than 72 hours, but can be done up to 5 days in the state of New Jersey.

Some things to keep in mind are…

  • To preserve evidence in the case of sexual assault, it is recommended that you do not shower or bathe, wash your hands, use the toilet, douche, eat, drink, smoke, brush your teeth, change clothing, or wash clothing or bedding before a medical exam. Even if you have already taken any of these actions, you are still encouraged to have prompt medical care. See the infographic to the right for more details.

 

  • Medical Assistance — Even if you have no apparent/obvious injuries after the assault, it is still recommended that you seek medical care to assess for possible underlying injuries and offer preventative resources against unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases/infections. Victims/survivors have a couple of different confidential options when looking to obtain medical treatment. TCNJ students may go to Student Health Services or you may go to any hospital you choose, which can be done by going directly to the hospital or by activating the NJ Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) (which can be facilitated by various departments on campus, such as the Office of Title IX & Sexual Misconduct, Campus Police Services, Anti-Violence Initiatives, and AmIOk Program). Check out the video below to learn more about SART and this time sensitive option available. If you wish to seek medical treatment at the hospital, the medical providers will, with your permission, collect physical evidence to be used if you decide to prosecute, through what’s called a forensic examination.

 

  • Forensic Examination — If while receiving medical treatment you provide consent for physical evidence to be collected, the process of doing so is often referred to as a “rape kit.” This cannot be done at Student Health Services, but must be done at an emergency room or hospital by a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (known as “SANE Nurse” for short). Depending on the types of sexual contact/activity that occurred, the search for physical evidence may include taking samples from the vagina, mouth, or rectum to test for sperm cells and semen. If you think you were drugged or consumed a sedative-like substance, ask the medical provider to take a urine sample. Other evidence may be obtained from fingernail scrapings, foreign matter on your body, and the clothes you were wearing at the time of the assault. All exam findings are completely confidential and can only be released with your written consent. If you have visible injuries, you may be asked to have photographs taken. Photographing injuries is important because by the time your assailant is prosecuted, the injuries may have healed.
    • Things to note about the forensic examination:
      • The exam can be done up to five days post assault
        • This is true even if you have showered or done any of the other things listed above or in the graphic below.
      • There is no cost for a forensic examination and no bill should be generated.

 

  • Evidence Collection — Typically, if police are involved or will be involved, they will obtain evidence from the scene, and it is best to leave things undisturbed until their arrival. Police may gather bedding, linens or unlaundered clothing, and any other pertinent articles that may be used for evidence. It is best to allow police to secure items in evidence containers, but if you are involved in transmission of items of evidence, such as to the hospital, or if you aren’t sure whether or not you’d like to report to police at that time, secure them in a clean paper bag or clean sheet to avoid contamination. Plastic bags or containers are not recommended and items should be stored at room temperature that will not damage evidence.

 

  • If physical injuries are present, photograph or have them photographed, with a date stamp on the photo. SANE Nurses have equipment to photograph injuries.

 

NOTEGoing to the hospital does not mean that you have to make a report to the police – you get to decide whether you’d like to make a statement to law enforcement. At that time you may not know whether or not you’d ever want to pursue a criminal investigation, and that’s completely okay. Evidence can be collected at an emergency room and you can decide later whether or not you want to press criminal charges. One important thing to consider is just because you provide a statement to law enforcement does not mean that you then need to move forward with a criminal process. You can simply provide a statement and inform the police that you do not wish to participate at that time. Providing a statement to law enforcement as soon after the incident as possible would allow for you to have your experience documented while everything is still fresh, which is a form of evidence preservation that can be helpful in case you ever decide to pursue a criminal investigation whether it be now, or years down the road when it may be more challenging to remember all the details. With that said, you have the power to decide what is best for you and the forensic exam/the provision of medical assistance will be done/provided to you with or without providing a statement to law enforcement at that time.

 

Activating the NJ Sexual Assault Response Team (SART)


Dating and Domestic Violence

  • In the case of dating and/or domestic violence, the resource you choose to report the incident/crime to (a doctor, the police, the College, an advocate, etc.) may recommend ways to preserve evidence such as logging incidents, seeking medical care, etc.

  • If physical injuries are present, photograph or have them photographed.
    • Things to consider –
      • Include a date stamp on each photo.
      • Be sure to take photographs at various time points after the incident to capture the healing process.
        • For example, it may take a few days for bruising or other signs of injury to appear so if photographs are only taken immediately after a physical incident occurs, important details/evidence of the injuries may not be captured.
      • Take photographs from various angles to document the full scope of the injuries.

Stalking

  • Stalking is demonstrated through a pattern of unwanted contact or conduct.

  • Recording information about the stalking behavior you may be experiencing will help to document the behavior for College resolution processes, protection order applications, divorce and child custody cases, or criminal prosecution should wish to hold the individual engaging in the behavior accountable. It can also help preserve your memory of individual incidents about which you might later report or testify.
  • The stalking log (below) can be used to record and document all stalking-related behavior, including harassing phone calls, text messages, letters, e-mail messages, acts of vandalism, and threats communicated through third parties.
  • When reporting the incidents to law enforcement, always write down the officer’s name and badge number for your own records. Even if the officers do not make an arrest, you can ask them to make a written report and request a copy for your records.
  • In addition to logging unwanted contact, an advocate or police officer may recommend you save and photograph unwanted text messages, emails, letters and gifts and store them in a secure location.

SPARC Stalking Log


 

Reporting


If you wish to make a report to law enforcement, or if you wish to have evidence collected so you can make this decision later, any/all of the following entities can offer assistance:

  • Calling the local police in the area (jurisdiction) to which the incident occurred
  • Contacting any of the various on-campus resources, including:
    • Campus Police Services (609-771-2345)
      • Can provide assistance if the incident happened on campus, and if it didn’t, they can help you identify the jurisdiction to which the incident occurred and the proper authorities to report to
    • The Office of Title IX & Sexual Misconduct (609-771-3112 | titleix@tcnj.edu)
    • Anti-Violence Initiatives (609-771-2272 | michelle.lambing@tcnj.edu)
    • AmIOk Program (609-270-4524 — 24-hour hotline)
  • Womanspace (609-394-9000 — 24-hour hotline), which provides victim advocates & facilitates sexual assault forensic examinations for Mercer County.

 

 

Counseling & Support


You have various confidential counseling resources on and off campus that can help and guide you through this process. See our Resources page for more information.

 

For any questions or concerns, please contact the Title IX Coordinator, Chelsea Jacoby, directly at jacobyc@tcnj.edu or (609) 771-3112.

ATTENTION: For questions/concerns or if you or someone you know has experienced any form of sexual violence, be sure toContact Us
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