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CMAJ. 1999 Jun 1;160(11):1565-9.

Examination for sexual assault: is the documentation of physical injury associated with the laying of charges? A retrospective cohort study.

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Department of Family Practice, University of British Columbia, Vancouver.



Few studies have examined whether there is an association between individual medical findings and legal outcome in cases of sexual assault. This study was undertaken to determine the relation between the extent of documented physical injury and a positive legal outcome in cases of sexual assault and to determine other factors associated with the laying of charges in such cases.


In this retrospective cohort study, the authors reviewed the charts and medicolegal reports for all cases of sexual assault that were handled by the BC Women's Sexual Assault Service in 1992 for which a police report had been filed. Information on patients' characteristics, the nature of the assault and the extent of injury was extracted from these records. A system for scoring clinical injury was developed by 4 of the physicians at the Sexual Assault Service, and a clinical injury score was assigned for each case by one physician. The relation between the outcome (in terms of whether charges were laid) and the circumstances of the case was examined by logistic regression.


A total of 95 cases with complete medical records and information about legal outcome were identified during the 1992 calendar year. After adjustment for income level and the patient's knowledge of the assailant (either as an acquaintance or as his or her partner), the odds ratio (OR) for charge-laying in a sexual assault case with documented moderate to severe injury was 3.33 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.06-10.42). Socioeconomic status above the group median (defined as annual income greater than $21,893) (OR 3.26, 95% CI 1.09-9.71) and knowledge of the assailant (OR 4.58, 95% CI 1.52-13.79) were also associated with charge-laying. Presence of genital injury per se, age of the patient and detection of sperm by microscopy at the time of examination were not associated with the laying of charges.


The results of this study show that the extent of documented injury is associated with the laying of charges in cases of sexual assault. However, many questions remain about the effectiveness of the medical component of gathering such evidence.

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