By Terri Fyfe
Kentucky protection for sexual assault and rape victims has been ruled insufficient, according to attorney general Greg Stumbo’s opinion released last month. Now sexual assault victims needing treatment, beyond what the Sexual Assault Victim Assistance Fund’s allotted $550 can provide, cannot be forced to pay the additional expenses, according to the statement.
The allotted amount reimbursed the following: $200 for a medical screening, $250 for the use of the facility and $100 for medication and pharmaceuticals.
Before, if the victim’s expenses went beyond the allotted amount, the hospital could bill the victim or the victim’s private insurance.
The needs and the expenses a patient may incur depend greatly upon each case, based on individual injuries sustained, said Connie Johnson, an emergency department clinical manager and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner at Pattie A. Clay Regional Medical Center.
The more treatment and medication required, the increased risk of the victim being charged, she said.
However, victims needing additional treatment or medication not covered by the previously allotted SAVAF amount are rare, Johnson said.
Despite whether or not the victim can afford treatment, hospitals such as Pattie A. Clay still provide the victim with all services needed or wanted, including information on counseling, she said.
Since Pattie A. Clay first established a sexual assault program in September 2004, 27 patients have been given exams, Johnson said.
“The patients (at the hospital) get any treatment they require,” she said. “We’re patient advocates and the billing comes in later.”
Under current Pattie A. Clay policy, if counseling or further financial assistance is needed, the victim can apply for additional SAVAF funding. The Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center also provides counseling, Johnson said.
Medical attention becomes the top priority when police are notified of a victim who has been sexually assaulted on campus, Campus Police Chief Mark Welker said.
When a victim arrives at Pattie A. Clay for medical attention, the victim receives a medical screening exam performed by a medical physician. The physician will then consult a SANE for sexually transmitted disease testing if indicated, Johnson said.
However, a recently assaulted victim receiving an STD testing – for example, the same day as the assault – will most likely not be found STD positive even if the victim has contracted an STD, she said.
SANEs provide preventative treatment for sexually transmitted infections and information regarding counseling if the victim desires, Johnson said. Preventative STI medication exists for several STIs, excepting herpes.
Currently, victims screened at Pattie A. Clay receive the ER medical screening and STD prophylaxis paid for by the SAVAF, Johnson said.
The hospital directs victims wanting STD follow-up treatment and testing, including HIV treatment, to the Madison County Health Department.
Whether Stumbo’s statement will change that, Johnson is unsure. But Johnson sees no reason for follow-up treatment to stop occurring at the Madison County Health Department in favor of follow-up treatment at the hospital. Of course, if procedures were changed in benefit of the patient, such procedures would be followed, she said.
“Anytime there’s a change in procedure, we’re going to follow the standard of care,” Johnson said.
After the victim has been given medical attention, police then focus on collecting as much forensic evidence as possible. Police collect forensic evidence from both the crime scene and physical evidence taken from the victim’s body, Welker said.
If the victim is working with police, the SANE collects forensic evidence and sends the evidence to the Kentucky State Police crime lab. Evidence includes tests for date rape drugs, Johnson said.
However, a trained SANE collects forensic evidence from the victim only if the victim so wishes, she said.
Upon arrival to the hospital, the victim often feels shocked, shameful and judged, said Angie Aaron, a crisis counselor at the Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center.
“Rape is the only crime where the victim blames themselves,” she said.
For this reason, police give the victim as many options as possible such as getting medical attention only or receiving both medical attention and choosing to prosecute. If the victim does choose to work with the police and file a charge, forensic evidence will be collected if possible, Welker said.
Police inform victims of the ability to start the investigation at a later date, if police find the victim unsure of whether to prosecute, he said. However, the victim who decides later to file charges may be at a disadvantage.
“All forensic evidence may be lost,” Welker said.
Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes because sexual assault is a deeply personal issue, the victim may not know what constitutes sexual assault, and the victim may be embarrassed.
“I think all of (those reasons) are tragic,” Welker said. “Because if (victims) think they’ve been assaulted, they probably have.”
Less than five percent of completed and attempted rapes of college students are brought to the attention of campus authorities and/or law enforcement, according to a report by the National Institute of Justice in 2001.
According to the 2001 report, 50 percent of women victims do not identify the sexual assault as being rape even if it was a completed rape.
Under Kentucky current law, sexual assault is considered rape if the genitalia has been penetrated, either by the penis or any foreign object.
Sexual activity that occurs with someone who is drunk is considered rape. If both parties are drunk, the male is considered responsible because the penis is considered a weapon, she said.
Oral and anal sex, also known as sodomy, is also considered sexual assault and is a felony like rape, Aaron said.
“When people picture rape, they think of the woman in the short skirt, high heels. and the man jumps out of the bushes with a weapon,” Aaron said.
However, the majority of sexual assaulters use just enough aggression to put the woman into submission, she said. Officials term this tactic as “instrumental aggression.”
Between 80 and 90 percent of female rape victims are raped by someone they know, according to the NIOJ report. Of rapes on-campus, 60 percent happened in the victim’s residence.
A majority of victims of sexual assault who receive treatment at Pattie A. Clay have been drinking alcohol, Johnson said. Some, both those who have been drinking and those who haven’t, are victims of date rape drugs.
“People need to realize they can’t trust everybody,” she said.
Johnson recommends guarding against becoming the victim of date-rape drugs by keeping a careful watch on anything you may be drinking.
Students at parties should also try to stay accountable for everyone they arrived with, making sure not to leave anyone, Aaron said.
With the majority of victims being raped by someone they know and the majority occurring in the victim’s residence hall, ultimately the police on campus try to bring awareness, prevention and education to those at risk, Welker said.
“Police aren’t here to save people from themselves,” he said. “A lot of it comes down to responsibility to yourself.”
Although students should follow all precautions they can, victims should know they did not cause the sexual assault to occur no matter what the circumstance, Aaron said.
Aaron is happy about the new law.
“I would hate to see anything like money stand in the way of justice,” Welker said.
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