As most readers probably know, the town of Wasilla, Alaska charged rape victims for their own rape kits on then-mayor Sarah Palin’s watch. But the situation in Wasilla is not unique. Local 2 news in Houston reports that sexual assault victims in Texas are “getting bills, rejection letters and pushy calls from bill collectors” after undergoing examinations.
The Texas Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund is meant to reimburse police departments for up to $700 towards the cost of rape kit examinations – which can cost over $1,000. But the fund and law enforcement often pass the buck back and forth, giving victims the run-around. In fact, Attorney General’s spokesman Jerry Strickland says the legislature requires victims to exhaust all other potential funding sources, such as local police or their own health insurance. Yes, crime victims are burdened with the responsibility of finding a way to pay for criminal investigations.
A rape kit is not a medical procedure; it’s a method of forensic evidence collection. They may be performed in hospitals, but there is no reason a victim’s health insurance company (if she has insurance!) should have to pay for a rape kit exam. Hospitals should not be footing the bill, either. Outrageously, the Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund had $66,572,261 left over in 2008. Millions of dollars are left unspent whilst rape victims fend for themselves.
And it doesn’t end there. In North Carolina, “the vast majority of the 3,000 or so emergency room patients examined for sexual assaults each year shoulder some of the cost of a rape kit test,” according to the Raleigh News & Observer. Ilse Knecht, of the National Center for Victims of Crime, says she’s recently heard from caseworkers in Illinois, Georgia, and Arkansas reporting that rape victims are charged for their forensic exams. Additionally, undergoing a rape kit exam is no guarantee that it will ever be processed. A Human Rights Watch report reveals that in Los Angeles County, CA, there were at last count 12,669 rape kits sitting in police storage facilities. Some had sat around for over ten years, and in many cases, the statute of limitations had expired.
Being charged for one’s own rape kit amounts to a rape tax, and in too many cases, police department inaction resembles obstruction of justice. These women did the “right” thing after being raped; they reported the crimes and underwent invasive examinations. And they are suffering revictimization due to indifference, at best. Rape victims and potential rape victims are simply not a priority. Meanwhile, rapists remain free to reoffend. What this looks like to me is sex discrimination.