Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Rape Victim Billed For Evidence Costs

A friend of mine recently forwarded me a link to the article below with the subject line titled “unbelievable.” I clicked to the site and read the article with a heavy heart feeling so sad for what this survivor endured and ashamed and disappointed with the “system.” Unbelievable yes, but you know what else, it is? UNACCEPTABLE.
Rape Victim Billed For Evidence Costs
By Stephen Dean
POSTED: Thursday, May 7, 2009
UPDATED: 12:12 am CDT May 9, 2009

HOUSTON -- Victims of sexual assault are getting bills, rejection letters and pushy calls from bill collectors while a state crime victims' fund sits full of cash, Local 2 Investigates reported Thursday.
"I'm the victim, and yet here I am. I'm asked to pay this bill and my credit's going to get hurt," said a single mom from Houston.
She received bills marked, "delinquent," after she visited a hospital where police told her to have evidence gathered. Officers assured her she would not pay a dime for that rape kit to be handled.
"That was unreal," she said. "I never thought I'd be out anything for what I went through."
She was 44 years old when she was attacked in her own bed. She said she awoke to find a burly 15-year-old friend of her son assaulting her. He was found delinquent, meaning he was convicted, in juvenile court, thanks in part to the evidence gathered with the rape kit.
"It is set up legislatively so that the criminal justice system pays for whatever evidence collection occurs," said Kelly Young, with the Houston Area Women's Center, a rape crisis facility.
Police departments are reimbursed for up to $700 by the Texas Crime Victims' Compensation Fund, but many departments cover the bills if they exceed that.
After that happens, victims can apply for other costs associated with the rape kit hospital visits to be covered by the fund.
The Houston Police Department made one payment toward the single mother's hospital bill, but when she submitted the $1,847 worth of remaining bills to the Crime Victims' Compensation Fund, she received a denial letter, telling her that law enforcement should have paid.
"She's getting the run-around," said Young at the rape crisis center, which was not involved in her case.
"There may be lots of survivors who have this happen and we don't know because they don't know that they shouldn't be getting the bills," she said.
"A lot of people aren't going to ask. They're just going to go ahead and pay it and move forward with their lives. They don't want to keep re-living that experience," said Young.
Texas State Comptroller's office figures show the fund has tens of millions of dollars left over at the end of each year.
In September 2006, the balance was $67,058,646 and one year later, the balance was $57,669,432.
In 2008, that figure was up again to $66,572,261 that was left unspent in the fund.
Attorney General's spokesman Jerry Strickland said the crime victim fund is enforcing strict guidelines imposed by the legislature as to which bills are paid and which victims are sent a denial notice.
Otherwise, he said that fund could become "insolvent."
He said state law is clear that crime victims must exhaust all other potential funding sources, such as local police or their own health insurance.
"The legislature set it up that way," said Strickland.
When asked for a number of how many denial letters had been sent out to Texas rape victims in the past, Strickland did not have an answer after checking with his crime victims' compensation office workers.
He said the attorney general's office constantly trains hospitals and health care providers on how to help victims in getting reimbursed for their expenses.
Health care workers and rape crisis counselors told Local 2 Investigates that victims have come forward with denial letters for varying reasons, such as police listing the case as inactive, paperwork being filed incorrectly, or expenses falling into the wrong category.
Young, the advocate at Houston Area Women's Center said, "They're not dotting the Is and crossing the Ts to make sure that the person who was victimized does not have to re-live it six months later because they get a bill."
When Local 2 Investigates contacted the hospital where the single mother had her rape kit performed, hospital leaders quickly canceled her bill when they found out the state would not be paying the charges She now owes nothing.
She said she's amazed it happened to begin with, adding, "I don't look very kindly to them. I mean, I would expect that they would have had a little more feeling for me and they didn't."

While reading this article my mind wandered to thoughts of other survivors, some whom I’ve helped personally who struggle to recover from surviving a violent crime only to be left with the overwhelming feeling of utter exhaustion after attempting to access the proper resources for medical, legal, psychological and financial support. As an advocate and activist I am well aware that we have a long way to go when it comes to providing adequate resources to survivors of violent crimes, but a lot of times the problem is not the resources, its finding them. Before I give a big fat resource plug let me make it clear that I think it’s absolutely absurd that the woman in this article or any other victim for that matter would have to deal with taking care of bills to cover the incurred costs of a crime that was committed against them. Do we ask people who's homes have been robbed to pay for the detectives to finger print their home? Do we ask for the family members of murder victims to pay for crime scene tape? No, we don't. Why is rape any different? The fact (and law) is that it's not. A medical exam/ rape kit is part of investigating the crime and there for is paid for by the Office of the Attorney General. Victims should NEVER be billed for any part of forensic medical exam services. Also if a survivor who is reporting the crime requires further medical care that is not covered by their insurance those payments as well as co-pays and deductibles can be submitted for reimbursement to the Bureau of Victim Compensation. Often this is not explained to the survivor unless an advocate is present as the law enforcement professional's and medical personnel's responsibilities do not include providing financial resources.

The last thing this Houston woman should have to do or want to do is track down resources to assist her in getting the bill collectors off her back and finding financial assistance to cover costs that are not her responsibility but that of the judicial system. But when it does happen (and sadly it’s going to continue to happen to other victims until we fix the system--that’s another whopper of a blog post) survivors should know that there are resources, organizations armed with trained experts and compassionate volunteers who are here to help 24/7.
If you are a survivor of sexual assault or a secondary survivor please contact your community rape crisis center. If you don’t have a center in your area contact
Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) 1-800-656-HOPE or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) 1-877-739-3895. These organizations can help get you in touch with an advocate to assist you through the entire process. Oh and P.S. Having an advocate with you at all times throughout the investigation and judicial process is a right not a privilege.

One fired up advocate,

1 comment:

Kelly Addington & Becca Tieder said...

Wanted to share The Attorney General of Texas post in response to this article. Follow the link below.