Houston pulls a Palin

Rape victims are being billed for the investigation of their own assault

By Abigail Kramer
Published May 11, 2009 2:04PM (EDT)

A big thank you to the criminal justice establishment of Houston for giving victims one more reason not to report rape. Along with the long-established odds of being ignored, disbelieved, humiliated, re-traumatized and possibly incarcerated, a local news channel reports that Houston rape victims are being billed for the investigation of their own assaults.

The news story was triggered by the case of a woman whose rapist had been convicted, in part because she participated in forensic evidence collection at a local hospital immediately after her assault. Officers assured her she wouldn't have to pay for the procedure (you know, kind of like the way a burglary victim doesn't pay police to fingerprint the scene of the crime) yet she received a bill -- marked delinquent -- for nearly $2000.

Texas has a Crime Victims' Compensation Fund that automatically covers up to $700 of the cost of a sexual assault investigation, but state law requires victims to exhaust all other potential sources before the fund will kick down any more. ("We're so sorry that you've been through hell, ma'am. Please submit an invoice in triplicate to your insurance company.")

Hospital administrators canceled the Houston woman's bill after reporters contacted them about the case, but advocates say that victims can end up paying their own investigation charges simply because they don't know to object. "A lot of people aren't going to ask," said one rape crisis counselor. "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."

This isn't the first time we've seen such dangerous nonsense. As mayor of Wasilla, Sarah Palin notoriously permitted her city to charge victims for their own rape test kits. And last year, The News and Observer reported that North Carolina hospitals were regularly billing patients for sexual assault evidence collection. It's hard to know how common the practice is in other states, because there's no federal law to regulate who pays for what. After all, that would be treating rape like any other prosecutable, punishable violent crime.

Abigail Kramer

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