RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — For some rape victims, the ordeal doesn’t just stop at emotional scars — it can also have a price tag.
8News Investigative Reporter Kerri O’Brien has uncovered some victims here in Virginia who are having to foot the bill for their own treatment.
Imagine… You’ve just been attacked, you’re emotional and possibly in physical pain and now you’re being sent home with a pricey prescription.
“This is a lot to consider for a survivor who has been traumatized.”
Fatima Smith has seen the pain victims go through after such a horrific ordeal. She coordinates the Young Women’s Christian Association’s (YWCA) R-HART program, which connects rape survivors with volunteers who often sit with the victim as forensic evidence is collected extensively through a rape kit.
As if that wasn’t hard enough, Smith tells us now that some victims are being slapped with big bills for HIV preventative medication.
“They can range, like I said, anywhere from $500 to $1,000 or more just for these medications.”
There are only two hospitals in the Richmond area that have forensic nurses that can care for rape victims: Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital and VCU Medical Center.
At St. Mary’s, if a victim chooses to take HIV post exposure prophylaxis, a month long treatment that must be taken within 72 hours of exposure, the victim’s bill is covered.
But a billing dilemma at VCU Medical means some assault victims who want the meds have to pay for them.
“Unfortunately, it’s all too common,” Rebecca O’Conner, says.
O’Conner, VP of Public Policy at the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) spoke with 8News over Skype. She says she’s seen victims across the country getting billed for the assault, some with bills as high as $4,000 and the charges have gone beyond medication.
“Like a charge for a pregnancy exam, or even the ambulance fees.”
The Federal Violence Against Women Act prohibits sexual assault survivors from being billed for their exam and those rape kits which could help with criminal prosecution. But beyond that, whether it’s medication, pregnancy tests, blood work — what’s covered can vary state by state, city by city and even hospital by hospital.
”These are not costs that are generally planned for. You don’t have a separate savings account for you know when I become a victim of crime.”
Kelly Carpenter is with the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund. CICF helps victims of crime here in the Commonwealth with medical bills.
CICF’s safe payment program can cover the cost of HIV meds.
The only problem is that not every hospital in Virginia participates, like VCU Medical Center.
“It is not set up with every forensic program across the state at this time,” Carpenter says.
So, what’s the hold up at VCU? Something as simple as billing.
“We have been in contact with the forensic program and I believe they are trying to locate a pharmacy that will to set up a direct bill process with us,” Carpenter says.
In a statement, VCU Medical Center says that they do provide survivors with the first three days of worth of HIV preventative meds. A prescription is written for the remaining 27 days of medication.
“We are in progress of working with the criminal injuries compensation fund (CICF) to hopefully get the prescription cost covered,” a VCU spokesperson told 8News.
Rebecca O’Conner of RAINN says it’s up to states to put these survivors first and go beyond what federal law requires.
“The last thing [victims] need is to be re-victimized again through a billing process.”
“I will say that it should be considered just the same as a physical evidence kit. It should be one of those things that we as a community say we are going to support survivors,” Smith of the YWCA says.
Some states are doing just that. The governor of Louisana recently issued an executive order for hospitals to stop double-victimizing rape survivors with bills for exams and tests.
If you have been a victim of sexual assault and are looking for somewhere to turn, follow one of these two links for some valuable resources: