Sexual Assault Survivors Have To Pay $1,000 On Average For Medical Care & It’s Just One More Way The System Perpetuates Rape Culture
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Being raped or assaulted is one of the most violating and traumatizing thing a person can endure. And, to add insult to injury, a new study reports that rape survivors often must pay an average of $1,000 out of pocket just to get medical treatment. The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, concluded that an analysis of insurance providers’ payment patterns for 1,355 female survivors revealed that survivors remit, on average, 14 percent, or $948, of the cost of receiving treatment.

What makes this even more egregious is that victims of other violent crimes typically do not have to pay for injuries associated with their assault. "Many people know sexual assault is an issue, but they're often unaware that victims have to pay for associated medical charges," Ashley Tennessee, the study's lead author and an assistant professor in the Medical University of South Carolina's Division of Healthcare studies, said in an interview with Reuters Health.

Additionally, Reuters Health reported that the Violence Against Women Act, passed in 1994 and reauthorized in 2013, requires states to pay for sexual assault forensic exams, also known as rape kits. The problem is that hospital billing procedures often include more services than those associated with the rape kit alone, and forensic costs can also vary by state, which can leave some survivors with a hefty financial burden.

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“This financial burden adds to the emotional burden of sexual assault,” Tennessee told Reuters Health. “This is an area that society has missed, and we have a moral right to help victims.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed rape survivors about this issue in 2009, including one woman who required surgery to repair her internal organs after the rape. She received a bill from her hospital for the cost of her rape kit, a forensic exam to collect DNA, and other evidence. While she was eventually able to get reimbursed, if you've ever dealt with trying to get your insurance company to pick up a bill, you know how difficult it can be. Now add the physical and psychological trauma of being raped or assaulted to that equation, and it's downright devastating.

"I could not believe this was happening to me, after all this," the woman told Human Rights Watch in an interview. "It got resolved, thank God, but not before I started to worry that my inability to come up with the money to pay the hospital would jeopardize my case. They tell me it wouldn't have, but it was so much worry that I didn't need."

The most recent study in the American Journal of Public Health revealed that 98 percent of survivors in the study were not admitted to the hospital, and the 32 patients who were admitted to the hospital paid an average of $788 for their inpatient stay. The others paid an average of $316 for outpatient costs, which can include prescriptions, further medical care, and mental health services, according to Reuters Health.

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Statistics from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) state that sexual assault is already grossly underreported with only 310 reports for every 1,000 rapes. The additional barrier of forcing survivors to shoulder the financial burden of the crime could lead to even fewer survivors coming forward, or seeking medical treatment at all, Reuters Health reported.

"We encourage all victims of sexual assault to get a medical exam following the incident. Anything that is a barrier to ensuring victims are physically OK is bad for them and the community,” Scott Berkowitz, president and founder of RAINN told Reuters Health.

The news outlet also reported that the Violence Against Women Act will be reauthorized again next year, and RAINN and other sexual assault groups want lawmakers to update the funding definitions and mechanisms to cover the additional costs survivors incur.

"There are still too many barriers for victims and too many ways we discourage them from coming forward and reporting to police,” Berkowitz told Reuters Health. “Receiving a rape kit exam at a hospital is an important first step in reporting incidents to police.”

Human Rights Watch suggests that rape kits be treated "like fingerprints collected at a robbery," and argues that states should assume the full cost like they do for other forensic evidence. "States also need to prohibit the parties responsible for payment, such as hospitals, from billing the rape victim or pressing her to pay the bill and seek compensation later."  

An additional problem is the rape kit backlog, which is described on the End the Backlog website as hundreds of thousands of rape kits that sit untested in police department and crime lab storage facilities across the country. So in many cases, after a survivor is forced to pay for their own rape kit, the kit is never tested. And, as RAINN reports, only 11 out of every 1,000 rape cases ever get prosecuted.

These issues are examples of how women's lives are consistently under-valued, and I can't even think of a word for how unacceptable this is.