When I posted about that recent Click2Houston story regarding the sexual assault victim who was billed by the hospital for the rape kit, I wondered if this was a screwup or standard procedure. Well, here's a response to the story from the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA) that clears things up.
Recently a Houston television station ran a story about a rape victim who was billed for her own rape exam. The news piece implied this was a common practice in Texas despite being told by several sources, including the Deputy Director of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA), that this was not the case. This news story, riddled with inaccuracies and half truths, was picked up by other news outlets and blogs and it took on a life of its own. Activists, advocates, survivors and other concerned individuals from around the country were justifiably angry and began to demand answers and action. The problem is there isn't really a problem, just the perception of injustice that is spiraling out of control.
TAASA is concerned that this misinformation will have a chilling effect on a rape victim's willingness to report the crime and get a forensic/medical exam (rape kit). We want to assure everyone that the cost of a forensic exam is not billed to the victim. This is always the responsibility of law enforcement and they in turn can be reimbursed for up to $700 though the Crime Victim's Compensation (CVC) fund. If the cost exceeds this amount it is absorbed by the law enforcement agency or hospital, not the victim.
Additional medical treatment is not part of the forensic exam and billed separately. All crime victims, i.e. rape, gunshot, mugging, etc. are billed for medical treatment. They are eligible to apply for reimbursement of these costs through the CVC fund. The CVC fund is statutorily the "payer of last resort," so if a victim has medical insurance it will be billed first. This is to assure the fiscal integrity of the CVC fund and make certain that funds remain available to crime victims who are uninsured or underinsured. Rape victims are not singled out in this process for reimbursement, it is consistently applied to all crime victims and this process is replicated with few variations across the country.
As with any system there is the possibility of human error. A victim could be misinformed or struggle to make sense of the process. This is the principle reason TAASA believes rape crisis advocates are so valuable to rape victims. Rape crisis advocates are not formally part of the systems or institutions that rape survivors must navigate, but are a valuable ally to victims when they encounter barriers or inconsistencies. I wish the rape victim in the Houston story had an advocate to help her through this very difficult time. Our only interest in this situation is that rape victims are supported and assisted. I encourage rape victims to access the services they so desperately need and not be deterred by the perception that they will be charged for their rape exam.