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Louisiana hospitals charging rape victims for emergency care

Louisiana hospitals charging rape victims for emergency care
Prominent women's rights group NOW is demanding changes to how Louisiana treats rape victims, after it became known that some were charged several thousand dollars for emergency medical services.

The news first broke last week, when the Times-Picayune reported that victims of sex crimes – once treated for free – are now being charged up to $4000 for forensic medical examinations by some hospitals.

In one such instance, a New Orleans college student awoke nude in a public place. Fearing she had been drugged and raped, she called emergency officials. They urged her to go to the hospital, assuring that she wouldn’t be charged. However, one year later she received a notice that she owed the hospital $2,254.

The president of the Louisiana chapter of NOW, Charlotte Klasson, responded to the reports with a strongly-worded message, stating that the alleged practice is “a form of political extortion to discourage the pursuit of prosecution of crimes of sexual assault.”

Louisiana’s Interim LSU Hospital said it does not charge patients for costs associated with the collection of evidence or a pelvic exam, according to the hospital’s spokeswoman, as cited by the Times Picayune. However, she said they still bill for related tests to learn if the victim is pregnant or has contracted HIV.

The practice of charging started last year, when the state transferred control of the hospital from Louisiana State University to a private entity.

Adding to the losses that occur when former state hospital services are privatized is the rubric of federal, state, and city laws concerning help for victims of sexual assault. Those laws are riddled with loopholes, and often fail due to lack of oversight or funding.

While 32 states pay for sexual assault exams through victim compensation funds, Louisiana is one of six states that leave it to local governments to pay, according to AEquitas, which provides training and technical help to prosecutors in sexual assault cases.

Although Louisiana has a victim compensation fund, some victims are excluded from coverage due to its rules – such as if the governing board believes a victim’s behavior “contributed to the crime,” NOLA.com reported.

Under the federal Violence Against Women Act, forensic exams are not tied to whether a victim reports an attack to the police. However, Louisiana hospitals are instructed by state law to treat sexual assault victims who do not want to file a police report as regular “emergency room” patients.

READ MORE: Two girls hung from tree on same rope after suspected rape in India

Following reports, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals released a statement blaming “disjointed local parish health policies” and a “poor legacy charity system” for sexual assault victims being charged for such health services.

READ MORE: 120 million girls, 10% worldwide sexually abused – UNICEF report

Louisiana law enforcement stated that 1,158 rapes were reported in 2012, along with 51 in the first quarter for 2014. However, it is believed that rape victims underreport due to shame and fear, and knowing that reporting can often lead to protracted court cases.

We know it’s affecting many, many more people than what’s being reported that we know of,” said Mary Claire Landry, director of the New Orleans Family Justice Center, a community group whose office has been inundated with calls since the story first surfaced.

Landry has been in touch with local lawmakers who are working to come up with solution.

We’re going to do more research in terms of exactly what the federal regulations say, look at what our state laws say, and then look at the policies and procedures across the state and see if we need additional legislation,” said Landry.

READ MORE: Rape victims on hook for medical bills related to their assault – study