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Rape Victims Charged Up to $1,200 for Rape Kits

Rape is not something you should budget for. Yet some rape victims, unlike victims of other crimes, have to pay for basic evidence collection.

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Justice Department officials also have found that, until recently, some states refused to pay for a rape victim’s exam unless she agreed to file a police report, which some victims are reluctant to do immediately after the attack.

In 2005, Congress revised VAWA to hold states more accountable. This time, Congress required state or local officials to pay for forensic exams even if a victim declined to cooperate with police. States that didn’t comply would lose federal crime-fighting grants.

The new rule went into effect this January with some marked successes.

By June, only five states were still billing victims who didn’t file police reports, according to the Justice Department. By early July, that number had dropped to one. Now department officials say every state is complying.

But the department still hasn’t verified that all of the nation’s 15,000-plus law enforcement agencies are following Congress’ mandate. After hearing about complaints from victims, the department contracted an outside advocacy group to more closely track these agencies, a Justice Department official said.

One problem the agencies are facing, interviews with police officials and advocates revealed, is lingering confusion about the new VAWA changes. When we first contacted the Nebraska State Patrol, a spokeswoman said it bills rape victims or their insurance companies if victims decline to cooperate with an investigation. When we reported this to the Justice Department, it notified the Patrol and determined that the spokeswoman had been given out-of-date information and that Nebraska is following the mandate.

While California is considered in compliance with VAWA’s new mandate, the state requires law enforcement agencies to authorize and pay for exams. Even a victim who doesn’t want to press charges must report the assault to get her exam covered. If she doesn’t call the police, or if the police don’t authorize her exam because they aren’t investigating her case, hospitals will charge the victim, several advocates and a forensic exam nurse told us.

A spokeswoman for the California Emergency Management Agency, which is responsible for implementing VAWA requirements, said her agency has not received any specific complaints about hospitals billing victims.

LOOPHOLES REMAIN

Even states that abide by VAWA can take advantage of its loopholes, leaving victims without the full protections that lawmakers intended.

Texas authorities pay for an exam only if the victim reports her attack within four days - a time limit that could exclude some victims and viable evidence, experts say. VAWA doesn’t address how long victims have to get their exam, so technically Texas is complying with the law.

Illinois requires hospitals to bill forensic exams to a victim’s insurance company, although the state covers exams for the poor and uninsured, as well as co-pays and deductibles for everyone else.

Maryland law leaves the billing issue open to interpretation, because it doesn’t explicitly prevent hospitals from billing insurance companies. Although VAWA clearly intended that states or local authorities pay for exams, both Illinois’ and Maryland’s policies comply with the law.

Kellie Greene, whose forensic exam was eventually paid for by Florida’s victim compensation fund, said insurance loopholes could discourage victims from getting exams. A young rape victim might not want her parents, who hold the insurance policy, to know she was attacked, Greene said. Cases are further complicated if a family member is named as the attacker.

Greene also noted that insurance companies could deny a victim coverage for future ailments seen as "preexisting conditions" resulting from her rape, including sexually transmitted infections.

VAWA also does not require states to cover non-forensic medical expenses, including ambulance rides, emergency room stays or treatment for injuries sustained during the assault.

 
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