Example of an existing rape kit

Redesigning the future of sexual assault responses

Designer and academic Antya Waegemann has been developing a redesigned rape kit to help improve experiences in the aftermath of a sexual assault. She talks to us about her work and why good design is an essential component in helping victims seek justice

“Sexual assault is a global epidemic and a public health crisis. This is a problem of power, silence and fear that touches every corner of this planet,” said Antya Waegemann in the opening moments of a recent talk she gave at Design Indaba in South Africa. She implored the room to put themselves in the shoes of a victim. “You’re traumatised, you’re in a state of shock, and you have to go to the emergency room, where all professionals are overworked and understaffed, and you might have to stay there for ten hours. If that’s not bad enough, not every hospital has kits or sexual assault nurse examiners, and there are even stories of women who have had to drive up to three hours just to find a hospital that would take them.”

It was a powerful introduction to her presentation on her work redesigning what’s known as a rape kit – a tool used in a forensic exam to collect the perpetrator’s DNA, which can then be used against them in a criminal case. “Every kit is different,” she explains. There’s no standard in the USA, but she reveals the sheer amount of paperwork involved (typically between 10-16 envelopes with instructions on the front) and practical tools, such as swabs and nail scrapers. The exam can take anywhere from two to ten hours to complete.

Looking at an example of the existing design, which was created by a forensic scientist and a nurse, it’s clear to see why the process could become overwhelming for all involved, adding precious hours to an already difficult process at a time of heightened trauma.

“I don’t believe at the time they were thinking as much about the actual design of the kit, or understood design and the power of graphics, but instead were focused on the information that they are trying to communicate,” Waegemann concedes. “I think that the intention was always to make it the best possible experience for the nurse and victim, but sometimes these intentions without design actually create more complex experiences.”