Sunday, May 10, 2009


The Vancouver Sun

Texas hospitals charging sexual assault victims for rape detection kits

As if coming forth with an allegation of sexual assault wasn't demeaning enough in many parts of North America, Texas has quietly decided to allow hospitals to charge a fee as high as $1800 to victims for the rape kits used to prove an attack.

Despite Texas' crime victim compensation fund being flush with cash, and most parts of the United States seeking to lessen the stress involved in a sexual assault investigation rather than increase it, Texan women have to hand over a credit card before their investigation can commence - or face debt collectors afterwards.

The office of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott says the standard practice is for the state to cover the costs of the kit automatically, but "many follow-up or added costs are not covered." Staff added that the victims compensation fund only pays as a last resort, when police and the victim's health insurance company refuse to do so.

Texas isn't the first place where this rule is in place - the town of Wasilla, Alaska, home to former mayor and current state Governor Sarah Palin, also charged assault victims for their rape kits until the state government outlawed the practice.

During her campaign for the vice presidency, Palin told a reporter at the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman newspaper that such a rule was ridiculous, stating, "The entire notion of making a victim of a crime pay for anything is crazy. I do not believe, nor have I ever believed, that rape victims should have to pay for an evidence-gathering test."

And yet, when she was Mayor, Wasilla did just that, billing rape victims between $300 and $1200 after the fact for their test.

Wasilla is not alone. In North Carolina, the vast majority of rape victims were being asked to cover some or all of the cost of their rape kits, until the local Raleigh News & Observer newspaper brought the practice to light. A state victims compensation fund had reportedly run low on cash, meaning it could only cover around $1000 of the $1600 hospitals now charge in that state for the kit. Similar situations have been reported in Arkansas, Illinois, and Georgia.

Rape kits generally include bags for clothing, a comb to collect pubic hair, test tubes for blood collection, swabs for DNA checks and fluid, and a series of tests for sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and DNA collection.

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