Insult to injury: Some victims still charged for ‘rape kits’

A laboratory technician shows a testing kit. © Romeo Ranoco
The notion that a victim should pay for the cost of processing evidence of their assault sounds absurd, but that is what billing for ‘rape kits’ amounts to, says one feminist writer who is refusing to pay her bill to a Chicago-area hospital.

It can cost over $1,000 to administer a “rape kit” – a medical forensic examination (MFE), using a standardized kit of evidentiary collection materials – to a victim. States who wish to receive federal funding are under the obligation to pay for the procedure, even if the victim does not report the assault to the police. Some states, however, do not cover the entire cost, leaving the victim to handle the financial fallout of the ordeal.

Feminist writer Elyse Wojnowski-Anders, who wrote about her experiences with rape earlier this year, posted on Twitter that she is refusing to pay a bill for her MFE.

Several other Twitter users offered to help Anders pay the bill, but she turned them down.

“I'm not paying it and I don't want anyone to pay it. It shouldn't be a bill sent to me or any victim,” she wrote.

Over the next two days, Anders attracted 3,500 retweets and 2,300 likes, provoking a discussion about billing the victims for rape kits and whether it remained a widespread practice.

According to a 2014 study by the National Institute of Justice, the answer is usually no. In much of the US, victims of sexual assault receive their MFE free of charge or obligation to make a police report.

“In some places, the system is seamless,” Janine Zweig of the Urban Institute, the study’s lead author, told reporters in June 2014. “In others, however, hospital administrators didn’t know what they were dealing with and were billing incorrectly.”

That appears to be the case with Anders. NorthShore, the Chicago-area hospital system that sent Anders her bill, said it does not charge for rape kits. The actual bill Anders received was “a minimum charge for physician services,” the hospital spokesman told Slate.

NorthShore also reached out to Anders on Twitter, offering their “sincere apologies” and asking her to resolve the issue with their billing department.

The federal Violence Against Women Act, passed in 1994, prohibits charging the victims for the collection of evidence. However, the law is not clear on how the states should cover the cost. In 34 states, the cost is covered from “victim compensation funds.” Other states, such as Ohio, pay a set amount and allow the hospital to bill the rest to the victim. In Arizona, Kansas, Minnesota, Nevada and South Dakota, individual counties have to pay for the procedure. According to Slate, most reports of victims receiving bills are in Louisiana and Illinois, both of which have passed additional laws in 2015 to ensure this does not happen anymore.

Another serious problem is the backlog in processing the completed kits, which was estimated at 400,000 in 2014. Earlier this year, the federal government and the New York County pledged a total of $79 million to “eliminate the backlog reaching 43 jurisdictions in 27 states across the country.”

The 2016 budget signed by President Barack Obama last week allocates 45 million in funding to help the local governments process the backlogged rape kits.