Today, I learned that victims of rape and other sexual assault in Louisiana often have to pay for forensic exams (what’s often called the “rape kit”), pregnancy and STI tests, emergency room fees and other hospital costs related to their assault.
Policy on these charges varies from state to state, but only 38 states legally ban health care providers from charging for the forensic exam itself, and far fewer provide for payment for other related tests and fees.
In LA in particular, these costs can be reimbursed by the Louisiana Crime Victims Reparations Board - but only if:
The Board does not feel the victim’s own behaviour contributed to the crime (yeah, the victim is never blamed at all for rape… /s).
The victim was not engaged in illegal activity at the time of the crime (say, underage drinking or illegal drug use).
The victim was not convicted of a felony or serving a sentence or probation within 5 years preceding or subsequent to the crime (because if you were even on probation, you must deserve whatever trouble comes to you).
And even if those conditions don’t disqualify you, you have to file a police report, and it’s been established that about two thirds of sexual assault victims don’t go to the police.
And as has been previously written about, the Violence Against Women Act is supposed to prevent states from charging assault victims for at least the forensic exam, even if the patient does not file a police report. This has been interpreted in ways that don’t really follow the law, such as only covering exams in certain cases, or only partially covering them.
This is pretty damn messed up, to me.
Since 2005, Louisiana has received $17.3 million in federal dollars predicated on the idea that victims are not paying any out-of-pocket costs for their sexual assault forensic exams.
Rutha Chatwood, the federal programs manager at the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement, said that for years she believed the state was in compliance with a STOP Violence Against Women grant rule that says states or other entities should be picking up the costs.
But about a year and a half ago, she started to hear complaints that victims were being billed.
"We’re aware of it," she said. "We have legislation out there, but it’s not being followed."