Recently, BuzzFeed News published an extensive report on Megan Rondini, a University of Alabama student from Texas who committed suicide after she was allegedly raped by a prominent local businessman. (The accused denied the allegation, stating that the sex was entirely consensual and that he has not been charged with the crime.) The story made waves online, and apparently, across the country, too. On Wednesday, a bipartisan bill to protect rape victims, the Megan Rondini Act, was introduced by Texas Republican Rep. Ted Poe and Rep. Carol Maloney, a Democrat from New York.
The intention of the bill is to address the structural need for hospitals to facilitate rape victims with easy-to-access and constantly available medical workers specifically trained to help them in their turmoil. These medical workers are known as sexual assault forensic examiners.
In June, BuzzFeed News reported about the events that led up to Rondini's suicide in 2016. Rondini alleged that she was raped in 2015 by T.J. Bunn Jr., the son of an influential family in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Bunn denied Mondini's claim, telling BuzzFeed that he had not been charged with the crime. Later, Rondini's parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against her university, the law enforcement agency, and the man Rondini accused of raping her. All parties have denied the claims.
(1/2) I filed the Megan Rondini Act ensuring victims have access to assistance & ability to pursue justice. Hosp. must have SAFE on staff OR— Ted Poe (@JudgeTedPoe) July 27, 2017
After the alleged incident, Rondini was reportedly treated at DCH Regional Medical Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. At the time, the DCH Regional Medical Center did not possess a sexual assault forensic examiner. This was a glaring flaw astutely highlighted in BuzzFeed News' investigative report.
Without a sexual assault forensic examiner on board, it is virtually impossible to provide a rape victim with the right kind of attention and care in such a case along with collecting the necessary forensic evidence. After the investigative report was published, the DCH Regional Medical Center announced it will employ and train sexual assault forensic examiners.
Poe's bill will require hospitals to maintain a constant staff of sexual assault forensic examiners or be able to help victims to a directory of centers that possess such medical examiners.
On Wednesday morning, Poe made his thoughts clear in a speech at the House of Representatives. Poe spoke of how Rondini had felt betrayed by the current state of affairs and how the medical and law enforcement system handled her case. In the BuzzFeed News' report, a videotaped interview of Rondini showed how law enforcement officials treated her with suspicion. In one case, Rondini was reportedly informed by an officer that it did not seem as if she had tried to fight her alleged rapist off. "You never kicked him or hit him or tried to resist him," the official reportedly said to Rondini.
"It's here, Mr. Speaker, that the system, [Rondini] says, started to fail her," Poe said. He went on to say, "The hospital wasn't sufficiently trained in sexual assault procedure and botched the rape kit. Megan then went to the police station to give her statement about what happened to her, but it was there she was treated with disdain and disbelief by Tuscaloosa's Police Department."
Hopefully, Poe's legislative move will wholly address the negligence that is inadvertently caused by a lack of sexual assault forensic examiner within hospitals and medical centers. With this bill, there is a glimmer of hope that rape victims will have a system to lean on, instead of being utterly failed by it.