Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

A response from TAASA to the rape kits story

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.

That was written by Annette Burrhus-Clay, TAASA’s Executive Director. It’s still not clear to me where the error occurred, and I wish she had elaborated on the “inaccuracies and half truths” she said the story contained. It is good to know that this was an aberrant case, hopefully an isolated one, and I certainly agree with the call for rape crisis advocates. If it were earlier in the session, perhaps this story could be used to galvanize support for more funding for these advocates. Given where we are, I suppose the best we can do is try to get the word out and make sure as many people know how it’s supposed to be as possible. Thanks to Baby Snooks for emailing this link to me.

Related Posts:

2 Comments

  1. Ginger Stampley says:

    I’m really glad to see this, although like you, I’d like to know what was wrong with the original story. It brings it home that the biennial legislative sessions are problematic when you realize that if there was/is a problem, it can’t be addressed because the session is ending and lawmakers are out of pockets for 18 months.

  2. Baby Snooks says:

    I’m content with someone clarifying that no rape victim under any circumstances is supposed to be charged for the rape kit.

    As for whether there is a problem beyond an isolated incident, there have been problems in other states and have been since 2004 when the National Center for Victims of Crime first notified advocates of the matter and as of last year when the National Center for Victims of Crime acknowledged there were still problems.

    If there is a problem, it isn’t really a problem with the legislature but with the AG’s Office not enforcing the law with regard to the rape kits. The state does not have the right to supercede federal law in this matter.

    I’m still not clear about how it is set up for law enforcement agencies to cover the cost and then be reimbursed by the AG’s Office. There may be some miscommunication which results in “human error.”

    Too often the advocacy organizations are not responsive when problems arise. So I’m pleased with TAASA responding to this.

    If a rape victim is told they will have to pay for it, at least they know who to call.