I can’t imagine the trauma and emotional horror a woman goes through when she is brutally raped. Quite often, a rape victim is permanently scared emotionally and struggles with relationships the rest of her life.
Now imagine being victimized over and over, not by the rapist but by the system you turned to for help. I’m not talking about the humiliating cross examination of defense attorneys that takes place in many court rooms, but the hospitals and labs that collect the rape kits on the victims.
A suburban Chicago woman identified only as Christine is one of hundreds of rape victims to be repeatedly victimized by the system that’s supposed to help her. Christine is a sexual assault forensic nurse that knew all too well to trust the system. After a night out for dinner and drinks with friends, Christine describes what happened to her:
“I don’t remember anything after leaving the dinner portion. I woke up naked and I don’t remember anything else after that.”
Working in the system, she went to the hospital where they collected the evidence for the rape kit. This was the very same hospital where Christine worked. Part of her job had been to establish the sexual assault response protocol that were used to collect her own rape kit. Then Christine explained:
“The next day I got my first bill for my copay. The bills just kept coming after that.”
“When you keep getting revictimized once a month you get a reminder in the mail, hey you were raped, hey this happened, you know, it’s hard to move on.”
The trauma of the rape combined with the repeated trauma of the hospital bills so devastated Christine that she was unable to get out of bed for months, let alone return to work. When she couldn’t pay the hospital bills, they threatened to send her to collections.
In 2005, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act that protected rape or sexual assault victims from being billed, including co-pays, for the rape examination and collection of the rape kit. However, the VAWA only covers specific aspects of the collection of the rape kit and in many cases, the exams, treatments of the victims and processing of the kits are not covered by the federal act.
So who pays for these additional costs? In many cases the rape victim is left with the bills. Some states and even some counties have passed various laws that go beyond the VAWA to protect the rape victims, but those laws are not equal or uniform from place to place.
Bills to further protect rape victims from bearing the costs of the rape kit collections and processing not covered by the VAWA have been introduced twice in Congress. Both times, the bill failed to even make it out of committee and both times, the Democrats were in control of that branch of Congress.
Democrats continually accuse Republicans of waging a war on women, but it’s the Democrats that have failed to protect women like Christine from being repeatedly victimized by the establishment that is supposed to be there to help them. I know there are many issues like the economy, jobs, immigration, war on terror and energy, that may be more important, but if Republicans can demonstrate how important women are by passing federal legislation to prevent victims from being billed for any and all expenses incurred due to the collection and processing of their rape kits and treatments.