Funding Forensic Medical Exams for Sexual Assault Victims
Healing from a sexual assault is personal and varies from survivor to survivor. Initial reactions may be shock, disbelief and fear. Everyday activities may be disrupted, including eating and sleeping. Victims may feel the need to change their address, job or lifestyle in order to gain a sense of security. Many survivors, however, discover a new sense of inner strength – finding that life is not only about how we are challenged, but how we respond to those challenges.
Last year, the Crime Victims’ Compensation (CVC) Fund provided reimbursement for more than 8,500 sexual assault exams and sexual assault examination kits. A sexual assault examination is not medical treatment, but rather a part of the criminal investigation. The exam is performed by medical personnel to collect and preserve crucial evidence that law enforcement uses to identify the perpetrators after an innocent victim has been sexually assaulted. Immediate medical needs and referrals for follow-up care also will be addressed at the time of a victim’s hospital visit.
Sexual assault victims are not charged for a forensic sexual assault exam. The kits are paid for by local law enforcement agencies, which seek reimbursement from the CVC Fund. For years the Fund has covered, and will continue to cover, the costs of sexual assault forensic examinations and kits.
Sexual assault victims decide for themselves whether to report the crime to law enforcement. Under House Bill 2626, passed last legislative session and effective June 19, 2009, the Department of Public Safety (DPS) pays for a sexual assault examination when the victim has not reported the assault to a law enforcement agency at the time of treatment. DPS then seeks reimbursement from the CVC Fund.
Consistent with the federal Violence Against Women Act, HB 2626 also prohibits conditioning payment for the forensic exam upon the victim’s participation in the investigation or prosecution of the attacker. Neither Texas law nor CVC Fund rules condition payment of sexual assault exam costs upon the victim’s role in the investigative effort. Victims are not billed for the costs of their exams. To ensure exam costs are always covered by the CVC Fund, Texas law requires that law enforcement agencies, not the victim, be billed for exams.
Victims who are unsure about reporting the attack to authorities may seek more information about the reporting process from their local sexual assault program. These programs provide survivors with support, confidential services and an advocate to accompany a victim to the emergency room and related appointments.
Sexual assault victims also may be eligible for additional financial assistance to offset other costs associated with crime. Reimbursement must first be sought from all other sources of reimbursement – such as private insurance – before filing a claim with the CVC Fund. To ensure that we fully comply with the law, anyone seeking direct compensation for their out-of-pocket expenses must complete an application.
To help victims navigate the crime victim compensation application process, the Office of the Attorney General provides training to victim advocates, hospitals and law enforcement officials across the state. The training, along with informational pamphlets and our Web site, www.texasattorneygeneral.gov, are intended to help victims and their advocates better understand application and payment procedures.
Sexual assault victims, law enforcement agencies, committed victim advocates and volunteers know the Office of the Attorney General will continue to fund sexual assault examination costs. Anyone with questions about the Compensation to Victims of Crime Fund or the Office of the Attorney General’s Crime Victim Services Division, please call (800) 983-9933.