Still no proof of governor’s claim that victims are charged for rape kits

Gov. Doug Ducey’s claim that facilities in some Arizona counties instruct victims to process their rape kits is disputed by nearly every county, and those bringing the claim refuse to disclose where it is.

On January 11, Ducey announced that some Arizona jurisdictions were charging victims an $800 processing fee in violation of the federal Violence Against Women Act, which guarantees that rape kits are free for victims of rape. sexual assault.

Arizona law orders the counties in which the assaults occur to cover the costs. the Arizona shimmer contacted all 15 county attorney’s offices in the state, and of the 14 who responded, all said they had never heard of rape victims being charged a fee in their county. The Apache County prosecutor could not be reached after multiple requests for comment.

Cochise County District Attorney Brian McIntyre said there was an incident 10 years ago – before he took office – when a woman was charged for her rape kit in an emergency room from a local hospital. The case was resolved by county officials after she informed them that her bill had been sent to collections.

“To my knowledge, that hasn’t happened since,” he said.

Mohave County District Attorney Matt Smith said he once heard a rumor that hospitals were using collection agencies to sue victims for medical examination costs. But for the past 10 to 15 years, that hasn’t been something he’s come across in Mohave.

Ducey’s claim appears to stem from a September 2021 letter sent to the governor’s office by the Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women, which helps shape public policy. The $800 estimate was not included in the letter, and interviews with the letter writers to find out which jurisdictions the governor was referring to were inconclusive.

After the governor made the allegation in his state of the state address, the Arizona Mirror contacted all 29 facilities across the state that provide forensic examinations to rape victims. The 17 who responded to inquiries denied charging victims any fees.

A new letter from the commission and victims’ advocacy groups sent to the governor’s office in February repeats the claim that “several jurisdictions in Arizona” charge victims consultation fees for forensic examinations, commonly referred to as rape kits, but declines to name jurisdictions.

“We do not wish to highlight facilities and/or counties where the free policy is not being adhered to. There may be misunderstandings about who pays or how a bill is paid…We also believe that disclosure risks damaging the vital relationship between suppliers, facilities and county prosecutors,” reads the letter sent by email.

Trevor Umphress, executive director of the Arizona Child & Family Advocacy Network, signed the second letter, but did not reveal the county names to the arizonian mirror, saying he was following the governor’s stance of not highlighting negative activity when so many institutions are running exams properly.

“(We) don’t want to damage our relationship with county prosecutors and other members of our team and make it negative when only a few entities choose to bring these charges for victims,” ​​he said.

When asked how the problem could be solved without identifying establishments that unfairly charge victims, Umphress said that legislative language would correct the situation by unequivocally prohibiting such practices.

Umphress said charging victims was an established practice in three counties and had been happening for several years. The providers circumvent federal law by calling the service a “consultation” and not a forensic examination.

“It’s standard practice in these communities to charge the victims and also charge the county attorney’s office,” he said.

In an email, Navajo County District Attorney Brad Carlyon said he didn’t know of any vendors in the county that charged counseling fees for rape kits. From time to time, emergency rooms administer rape kits, and these are also paid for by his office. Only rape kit costs are covered, however, and no other care.

“There are rare occasions, primarily with victims seen in the emergency room, where the hospital will send a bill to the Navajo County District Attorney’s Office for all medical procedures that were performed on the victim and for medications that were In these rare cases, the Navajo County District Attorney’s Office pays only the rape kit portion of the bill,” he wrote.

Currently, only the evidence-gathering portion of a sexual assault examination is covered by law and paid for by county prosecutors. Health care needed due to injuries sustained in the assault is left to the victim’s insurance, if they have one. Bills that could end up coming out of the victim’s pocket can include tests for sexually transmitted infections, casts for broken bones, stitches and ER admission exams to make sure they are physically stable.

The Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, one of the state’s leading victim advocacy groups, has been approached by sexual assault survivors about related health costs, and not a rape kit “consultation” fee.

“The real culprit of billing is for surrounding medical care; it is not for the kit itself. And that medical care is necessary and that survivors should not bear the cost of that care when they themselves are victims of crime,” said CEO Jenna Panas.

Umphress, who is part of a stakeholder group that has drafted legislation to address the “consultation fee” issue, said discussions are underway with the governor’s office to address hospital fees that concern the coalition.

Senate Bill 1593 requires counties to publish the name of the rape kit fee manager on their websites and prohibits health care facilities from charging consultation fees or charging the victim additional fees for exams forensic. The bill was approved by the full Senate on February 24 and has been sent to the House for consideration. Shortly after, the governor’s office Twitter account praised the action, noting that the measure was a priority for Ducey.

Panas said that while SB1593 doesn’t address the issues his organization is focused on, it helps to more clearly define who is responsible for the cost.

“Rape kits are something we want everyone to have access to, but if a payer isn’t defined, everyone plays the hot potato and the funds aren’t available. In order to deliver on the promise we made as a state that all rape kits are free, we need to make sure there is someone who is responsible and who can be held accountable, so for us, it’s is precious,” she said.

The coalition reached out to the governor’s office after seeing SB1593 to provide feedback on the legislation that it believes does not address the full scope of the problem. The group was not told in which counties the consultation fee is charged. Panas noted that if the governor’s office or advocacy centers like Umphress have information about indicted rape kits, that’s not something the coalition can comment on.

“It’s a lot like the boogeyman who’s invisible and there’s not really any specificity around him. But it’s not something that survivors have called the helpline or shared. In our role as type of state defense position, I think someone would have come forward and let us know,” Panas said.

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