University's Rape Kit Policy Under Fire

Some undergraduates at the University of North Texas are whipping up an internet storm after they found out that their school does not offer rape kits at the campus health center. The students started a petition to urge the university to change its policy, so that students get free transportation to a clinic five miles away in the case of sexual assault, and offer the exams on campus. The students behind the petition, Melina Padron, Dexia Smith, Tiffany Contessa, and Sabrina Ortiz, say that offering exams on campus will help assaulted students feel safer.

Their petition reads:

With a student body of 36,000 students, it is crucial that these students have sufficient protection provided by the school to help if an unfortunate situation such as rape occured [sic]. Currently, there is no rape crisis center or support group on campus. The closest women's center is about 5 miles away, but in case of an emergency the chances of transportation to the center or hospital at such a critical time are very slim. However, with the help of the university to help fund rape kits through the Health and Wellness Center, the student body would have the comfort of knowing that if such a situation were to arise they would be supported by the Univiserity [sic] and therefore creating a safer environment.

As of Monday afternoon, it had almost 600 signatures. But the UNT administration won’t budge.

University spokesperson Buddy Price told USA Today that the campus health center is meant to deal with routine issues, but not heavy trauma. He said the approach was the same as “all other colleges and universities in the state.” (USA Today notes that at least three Texas universities do provide the service on campus.)

But it’s not that the university wouldn't if it could; it’s that it might be unfeasible for it to do so. Apparently, completing a rape kit requires special certification as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, a complicated process that includes an eight-month classroom-based program. Denton County SANE coordinator Deborah Ridge told USA Today that there are only five SANE nurses in the entire county where the university is based, and about two or three hundred in the whole state of Texas.

(A Google search tells me that there are over 200 degree-granting institutions in Texas. If the estimate of 200-300 SANE nurses in the state is accurate, it’s virtually impossible for every campus to have one — and, presumably, one can’t be on duty 24 hours a day.)

Still, Eileen Hurley ­— a Philadelphia attorney with experience prosecuting sexual assault cases — says getting a SANE certified nurse and rape kits is a small price to pay. “The cost (of SANE certification and kits) to me seems little when compared to being able to assure your students that if — God forbid — this happens, we're going to catch the person who did this horrible thing to you,” she said.

Whether the national attention will be enough to change the university’s position remains to be seen. The students, meanwhile, are still more than 400 signatures short of their 1000 goal.