Home : Resources : Sexual Assault Investigations : Investigative Steps

Is it important to get a SAFE?

Victims of sexual assault may suffer both visible injuries and mental trauma that cannot be seen. It is very important to take care of your physical and mental health. Please seek out medical attention to ensure you treat any immediate injuries and begin addressing any potential long-term impacts of the sexual assault. 

NCIS also encourages victims to undergo a Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) with a specially trained medical professional. SAFEs are completely voluntary, and they are available at hospitals on-base and in your local community, free of charge. A SAFE administered within one week after a sexual assault may identify further injuries and yield DNA or other physical evidence of the person who hurt you. Even if you already know the identity of your offender, the evidence from a SAFE can have a significant impact on the outcome of any potential investigation.

If you are able to wait to take a shower until after your forensic exam, that may be helpful in evidence collection. However, a SAFE may still be effective to collect evidence even if you have already showered. When undergoing a SAFE, you can have a Victim Advocate or trusted friend/family member present with you for support. Please make sure to bring an extra change of clothing, as the examiner may ask to keep some of the clothing you are wearing as potential evidence. 

You may choose to have a SAFE in both Unrestricted and Restricted Reports of sexual assault. For Unrestricted Reporting, completed SAFE kits are turned over to the local NCIS office for safe keeping and evidence processing. For Restricted Reporting, SAFE kits are sent to the NCIS Consolidated Evidence Facility, where they are retained for 20 years. The evidence in the kits is not tested, but it will be available for testing should you change your mind and decide to file an Unrestricted Report in the future. 

NCIS is responsible for investigating all reports of sexual assault, collecting and preserving potential evidence of alleged offenses, and coordinating with partners to provide victim support.

What should I expect during my initial meeting with NCIS? 

An NCIS special agent will meet you in-person, usually at one of our offices, to ensure a private and secure space to speak with you. You may choose to have your Victims' Legal Counsel (VLC) and/or your Victim Advocate with you during the interview. You may also choose to meet only with NCIS, without a VLC or Victim Advocate, the choice is yours. During the initial interview, the investigator will ask you to share what you can remember about the incident. The investigator will follow up with detailed questions about when and where the sexual assault happened; the names of people who may have witnessed anything before, during and after the assault; and the suspect’s identity, if you know it. The investigator will also ask about any possible evidence and anyone in whom you may have confided about what happened. Every question helps the investigator determine the elements of the crime and identify supporting evidence. You may not be able to answer all of the questions, and that’s okay.

In preparation for your interview with NCIS, you may wish to consolidate any text messages, photos, videos, screen shots, or other records you have which you believe may relate to your assault. Additionally, if you have any unwashed clothing which you wore at the time of the assault or immediately after, please place those in a paper bag (not plastic) for safekeeping until NCIS can retrieve them from you. In most instances, NCIS will conduct a second interview with you to ask follow-on questions. Often, victims of sexual assault will remember additional details of their assault after the initial law enforcement interview, so a second interview allows you to share any additional information and to ask any new questions you may have. 

What should I expect during an NCIS sexual assault investigation? 

After your initial interview, NCIS will conduct a number of additional investigative steps. Those steps may include witness interviews, an interview of the suspect, an examination of the crime scene, collection of relevant evidence, and analysis of electronic media, if it pertains to the investigation. NCIS may also ask permission to review your cell phone, which is usually conducted during the interview, so your phone can be returned with minimal inconvenience. If potential DNA and/or physical evidence is collected during the investigation, NCIS may send that evidence to a forensic laboratory for independent analysis.

It is important to note, the NCIS investigative process will also include close coordination with fellow members of the Special Victim Investigation and Prosecution (SVIP) team. The SVIP team is comprised of your SARC or FAP Counselor, your Victim Advocate, and the Special Trial Counsel prosecutor assigned to your case. NCIS also coordinates with your VLC, if you have one, and with your Commanding Officer to ensure your needs are being met and that each team member has current information on investigative progress.

What other resources are available to victims of sexual assault? 

A SARC, FAP Counselor, and/or a Victim Advocate can assist victims in accessing additional treatment and counseling resources to help them in the healing process. Additionally, they can help advocate for victims in instances where a Military Protective Order (MPO) is appropriate. An MPO is an order issued by a Commander to the suspect for the purpose of safeguarding the victim. Traditionally an MPO directs the suspect to stay a minimum physical distance away from the victim and prohibits communication of any kind (phone, text, email, social media posts) directly or through a third party. MPOs remain in place until the Commander terminates the order. While MPOs are registered in a national law enforcement database, MPOs do not prevent a suspect from purchasing a firearm off-base and are not enforceable by civilian law enforcement agencies. A SARC, FAP Counselor, or Victim Advocate may also assist a victim in obtaining a Civilian Protection Order (sometimes referred to as a Restraining Order) which, unlike an MPO, is enforceable by local and state law enforcement off-base and given full force and effect by the military on base.