Deep in the heartless of Texas

In case you were worried that it would be a great loss to America if Texas were to secede, Think Progress offers this dandy news item to ponder: their rape victims are getting stuck with the bills for rape kits.

To clarify, individual hospitals bill assault victims for the collection of evidence for a rape kit, and in turn those bills are ideally supposed to be paid by health insurance or a state supported compensation fund designed specifically for that purpose, a fund that somehow, even in these lean economic times, is in surplus.  Sadly, due to either bookkeeping errors, crossed wires or someone who’s convinced that rape victims just aren’t made to suffer enough, those bills are going unpaid and victims are suffering the consequences, taking hits on their credit reports and getting dunned for the money by collection agents.

In my Pollyanna universe, I was under the impression that rape kits were offered by hospitals as a courtesy, in the assistance of a crime scene investigation, or at least, if there was a charge for them, it certainly wasn’t at the victim’s expense.  It was a quite an eye-opener to discover that, in some states at least, it’s the victim’s responsibility to investigate the avenues necessary to pay for it, and if those avenues don’t prove helpful, he or she will have to pay out of pocket.  I was even more shocked to discover that the cost is over a thousand dollars, even though a basic rape kit consists mostly of a bunch of paper bags, envelopes and some cotton swabs.  With the exception of test tubes and slides, most people probably have the components of a rape kit sitting around in their homes.  One can assume that the inflated cost is for the work that goes into the collecting of evidence for a rape kit, though it’s still baffling that there would be a charge for it: after all, you don’t pay the cops who are investigating the incident.

Clearly, considering there’s a surplus of funds, budget issues aren’t why these bills are going unpaid in Texas.  So where is the problem here? Is this an accounting error, or is it a matter of someone sitting at a desk going through these requests and stamping a big red “APPROVE” or “DENY” on them? If that’s the case, what are the standards that are supposed to be met for these bills to get paid with victim’s compensation funds? Who is making that call? Can it be possible that this is an unsubtle method of discouraging sexual assault victims from filing police reports, in either an effort to save costs or worse, because they buy into that fabled, pulled out of someone’s ass a long time ago statistic of more than half of sexual assault reports either being “misunderstandings” or made up altogether? Both scenarios make me feel ill, as it comes off as nothing short of punishing sexual assault victims, adding insult to an injury no one could possibly understand if you haven’t experienced it yourself.

I’m a volunteer for a rape crisis hotline, and in training we were told to recommend that hotline visitors who have very recently been assaulted should seek medical treatment and consent to use of a rape kit as soon as possible.  DNA evidence is all but required to build a strong case in a rape charge, as even well into the 21st century society puts sexual assault victims through the wringer, trying to look for every inconsistency in either their stories or their character to prove that they might be lying.  The rare victim who really does make the whole thing up, whether for attention or to cause trouble for someone else taints everyone who is telling the truth.  It’s going to be damn difficult encouraging someone to consent to a rape kit, putting themselves through the humiliation of getting poked and prodded and looked at like a bug under a magnifying glass, if there’s a chance that they might end up having to foot the bill for it themselves.  One thousand dollars isn’t small potatoes for most people, especially if it’s one thousand dollars you weren’t expecting to spend.  Can you imagine having to decide if that’s an expense you can handle? Weighing the option of going through with it and dealing with the fallout when it comes, or just dropping the whole thing because it’s not worth the money you might have to pay? Justice should never come with a collection notice attached to it.

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