Like all crimes, when someone reports a sexual assault to an emergency department, evidence must be collected. And that costs money. Victims aren't supposed to pay for medical care or the investigation but it gets complicated when a person's body becomes a crime scene.
"If you were robbed at your home, you wouldn't have to pay for the police to do the investigation," said Tracy Fremming, a sexual assault nurse examiner (S.A.N.E.) with Ministry St. Clare's Hospital in Weston.
At hospitals around the state, a similar approach applies to victims of sexual assault who come in for an exam. The Violence Against Women Act requires victims have access to free medical attention. In Wisconsin, the Dept. of Justice has set up two funds: the Crime Victim Compensation Fund, which helps those who report a crime of any kind, manage the financial burden; and the Sexual Assault Forensic Exam Fund, specifically for sexual assault victims who don't want to tell law enforcement or their insurance companies.
"The law still allows you to bill insurance, but the outcome of that is that the victim has to pay a copay and a deductible," Fremming said. "And it would cost the victim money. And we don't believe that's morally what we stand for."
That's why St. Clare's only charges the government. But not all health care providers are aware of these services.
"We've worked with a number of victims who've called us and said 'I can't believe this is happening, why am I getting a bill,'" Jane Graham Jennings said. Graham Jennings is the director of the sexual assault and domestic violence advocacy agency, The Women's Community in Wausau. She says many of the women she works with can't cover the costs.
"It feels like a really big slap in the face [to the victims]" she said.
Graham Jennings blames society's unwillingness to accept that these crimes do occur. The DOJ's Dir. of the Office of Crime Services says the situation is also complicated because multiple players are involved in the system.
"You go to the hospital and they have a billing department and they're used to working with certain insurance companies," Jill Karofsky said. "And then insurance companies have their own financial departments and what goes out and comes in."
Karofsky says the best way to make sure victims don't have to pay out of pocket, is to make hospitals and victims' advocates aware of the assistance programs. There's no cap on the two state funds, so the need will always be met.
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