Paying for Rape: How Some U.S. Hospitals Charge Rape Survivors for Treatment

Paying for Rape

When shopping for health insurance, do you ask yourself if a rape would be covered?

Of course not. Should that ever happen to you, god forbid, you’d hope that you wouldn’t be subjected to the further trauma and hardship of paying thousands for a crime you were powerless to prevent.

It’s not something you should have to consider, and the federal government agrees. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) dictates that rape survivors should never be charged for forensic exams following a sexual assault. After a 2005 amendment to the act, this became true for all rape survivors whether or not they chose to report the crime. According to AEquitas: The Prosecutors’ Resource on Violence against Women, most states ensure compliance with VAWA through one of four entities: a state victim compensation fund, county funding, a law enforcement agency, or a designated sexual assault program or fund. Some states cover the cost of forensic exams through more than one of these entities, depending on the circumstances.

Paying for Rape

rape-billing

But, as Rebecca Catalanello points out at The Times-Picayune, there is a discrepancy between federal law and state enforcement in Louisiana, with many receiving hefty hospital bills after rape-related medical exams. They detail two cases in the report. One woman incurred $2,000 and $1,700 bills with only partial coverage by her insurance. She was expected to pay $600 for two HIV drugs and accompanying drugs to stave off associated side effects, and an additional $1,700 for care, including the emergency room visit. The other woman, a college student who awoke nude and disoriented in a public place, received a $2,254 bill after being assured by responders that she would not have to pay for any of her treatment.

While Louisiana maintains a state Crime Victims Reparations Fund, victims can only apply for reimbursement for medical expenses if they report the crime, along with a litany of other stipulations. As the oft-reported statistic goes, 60% of all sexual assault victims don’t report their assault, and a measly 3% of perpetrators ever serve a day in prison. In short, that reparations fund has limited reach.

Louisiana’s medical billing for rape-related medical expenses are wildly inconsistent, according to the Times report.  Catalanello writes:

Whether a patient gets charged — and how much — varies according to what hospital they go to, who the admitting staff on duty are, and whether the billing employees know the processes for charging rape victims

Another discrepancy lies with the standard services provided in most post-rape medical treatments, and what VAWA requires states to cover. VAWA defines a forensic examination to include an examination of physical trauma, a determination of penetration or force, a patient interview and collection of evidence, while many post-rape medical exams include pregnancy tests and STI screenings in addition to the forensic exam.

With rape already being a drastically under-reported and under-persecuted crime, many are concerned that victims will not seek medical attention at all if they know that there could be prohibitive expenses.

The good news is that the Times report has caught the attention of Louisiana policy makers and state leaders, who have vowed to seek out solutions to the billing crisis.

“I had no idea that was happening,” state Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans said. “Talk about being traumatized twice.”

Lead photo credit: Lovely Drawing



Courtney Hamilton

An avid writer, reader, feminist and french fry fanatic.