The Violence Against Women Act was amended in 2005 in order to provide free forensic hospital examinations to rape victims, even if they choose to not file a police report. These rape kits, or SANE exams, are crucial for collecting medical and legal evidence to assess the extent of sexual assault.
However, Rebecca Catalanello, of NOLA.com and The Times-Picayune, reported last week that in Louisiana, victims are being traumatized a second time when handed Emergency Room bills for thousands of dollars.
According to Catalanello, VAWA covers expenses for “an examination of physical trauma, a determination of penetration or force, a patient interview and collection of evidence.” The law does specify allocations for other procedures usually associated with these exams: tests for pregnancy STI and HIV, emergency contraception or treatment of sustained injuries. In many cases, the victim is charged with the cost of the ER visit itself.
Although the state supposedly will reimburse victims for these additional costs, Catalanello points out several loopholes.
“The victims have to file a police report. They can’t have had any felonies in the past five years. They can’t have behaved in a way that, in the opinion of the board, ‘contributed to the crime.’ They can’t have been involved in other illegal activity at the time they were victimized. Statistically, that closes out a lot of people.”
Under these circumstances, rape victims will be far less likely to show up at a hospital or report the crime at all.
The amount of funding for hospital medical exams varies state by state. Earlier this year, The Urban Institute published a study of six states and their compliance with the changes to VAWA. The study showed that coverage “often includes facilities, fees, emergency room triage, emergency room doctor fees, SANEs’ fees, colposcopy and endoscopy, and other photographic imaging.” All covered tests for pregnancy and STIs, but numbers fell for emergency contraception or prophylaxis for HIV. In one state, approval of a prosecutor is required to cover the cost to test if the victim was administered a date rape drug. In the time required to facilitate that, the drug can pass from the woman’s system.
Victims of other sorts of crimes do not receive a bill for collection of evidence. It is in the government’s best interest to assist and encourage assault victims to report crimes against them by offering as much assistance as possible.