This object is jointly stewarded by Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and Smithsonian's National Museum of American History and was purchased with support from the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative.
The language used to describe this object is inherently sensitive. The Museums are currently working to refine how to describe it accurately and ensure that the object is searchable and accessible.
The Vitullo Evidence Collection Kit for Sexual Assault Examination (the Kit), is an early example of what is commonly known as a “rape kit.” The Kit includes standard supplies such as labeled envelopes and bags for samples, swabs, a comb, paper bags for clothes, and glass slides for semen specimens. It also includes a checklist of protocols, a form for examiners to record their findings, and a form for the victim's consent to release the evidence to the authorities. Another form includes treatment and counseling resources for survivors of assault.
The Kit’s concept and design was developed between 1972 and 1978 by Martha “Marty” Goddard (1941–2015) while working as an advocate and founder of Citizens Committee for Victim Assistance (CCVA) in Chicago, Illinois. In 1972, Goddard became aware of the tens of thousands of sexual assault cases unprocessed by law enforcement because of a lack of standardized protocol to collect and present forensic evidence, and a bias against accepting the traumatic nature of these crimes. Goddard and colleagues began interviewing survivors, policy makers, law enforcement, attorneys and hospital workers - primarily female nurses who were typically given no information or materials that would allow them to immediately collect evidence in support of victims' claims. Her intention was to understand the treatment of survivors and the use of evidence in the hopes of designing a standardized system that would increase the probability of suspect identification and prosecution.
In 1978, Goddard and CCVA finalized the design for a kit that standardized the process of collecting and preserving evidence. The kit gathered the tools and instructions for evidence collection and documentation into one box. Goddard intended for the kit to be adapted and used by hospitals and police precincts around the country.
Goddard presented this design to Louis Vitullo (1924-2006), a Chicago police sergeant who was the chief microanalyst in the city’s crime lab. Soon after, he introduced the Vitullo Evidence Collection Kit for Sexual Assault Examination. The initial funding, assembly of the kits, and graphic design was organized by the Playboy Foundation.
Goddard committed herself to advocating for the Kit’s implementation. Within two years, the Kit was in use in over two hundred hospitals across Illinois. Such kits are standard protocol in hospitals in the United States today.
Kennedy, Pagan. “The Rape Kit’s Secret History.” The New York Times. June 17, 2020.
Oral Interview: “Oral History Project Interview With Marty Goddard” by Ann Seymour, Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field. February 26, 2003. Video: https://sonix.ai/r/AK7imJevnbsuNAj4zwJc4xqe/share (last accessed 4/25/2020)
Ravitz, Jessica. “The Story Behind the First Rape Kit”, CNN , November 21, 2015. https://www.cnn.com/2015/11/20/health/rape-kit-history/index.html (last accessed 4/25/2022)
Shelby, Renee. “Whose rape kit? Stabilizing the Vitullo Kit through positivist criminology and protocol feminism.” Theoretical Criminology, December 2018. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362480618819805
Sotheby's New York. History of Science & Technology, Including Fossils, Minerals, & Meteorites. New York: Sotheby's, 2021. Auction catalog.
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