Study Shows Being a Rape Survivor Costs an Average of $3,500 in Medical Bills

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Study Shows Being a Rape Survivor Costs an Average of $3,500 in Medical Bills

Study Shows Being a Rape Survivor Costs an Average of $3,500 in Medical Bills

Sep 19, 2022

After a sexual assault, undergoing a rape kit (also known as a SANE exam, conducted by a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) can be an important step in ensuring that the perpetrator is brought to justice. Such sexual assault exams are extremely invasive, however, and can be burdensome on a number of levels.

A sexual assault can be very traumatic, and having to undergo a rigorous exam can add to the already substantial stress a survivor is experiencing. Moreover, the exam typically takes at least four hours to complete, and the swabbing, photographing, and other elements involved could easily lead one to question whether such an ordeal is worthwhile given the pain and suffering involved.

But while completing a rape kit is strongly recommended – as it can be a critical tool in identifying and arresting suspects – the costs involved can be yet another drawback which unfortunately discourages survivors.

New Study Highlights Significant Medical Costs Incurred by Rape Survivors

Sexual assault survivors who seek emergency room medical care after an incident can be left with exorbitant bills afterward, a trend that disproportionately affects those without health insurance. A new study shed further light on the costs involved in sexual assault medical care by looking at 35,807,950 hospital-based visits to emergency departments from the 2019 Nationwide Emergency Department Sample database.

The study – Uncovered Medical Bills After Sexual Assault – was published this month in the New England Journal of Medicine. The findings are troubling for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the economic burden often placed on survivors. In addition, the invasive nature of rape kit exams combined with the potential high cost makes the likelihood for underreporting – an already widespread issue – even greater.

112,844 emergency department visit records linked to sexual assault were included in the study. Among the survivors who sought treatment, 88% were women. The majority, 53%, were between 18 and 44 years old. 38%, however, were between 0 and 17.

The following findings were confirmed by the study:

  • On average, hospital emergency departments charged $3,551 for urgent medical care coded as “caused by sexual violence.”
  • People who were sexually assaulted while pregnant faced higher bills, with an average of $4,553.
  • Uninsured victims or those who chose to pay out-of-pocket were issued bills that averaged $3,673.

Additionally, survivors with private insurance didn’t fare much better.

  • Insured victims paid an average of 14% of their bills out of pocket.
  • For the average sexual assault hospital bill, that would work out to nearly $500.

“Emergency department charges may discourage the reporting of rape and seeking of medical care for both short-term and long-term sequelae of sexual assault,” the study’s authors cautioned. “Incurring such charges may further harm survivors – even those with full insurance coverage – by serving to disclose a potentially stigmatizing event to parents, partners, or employers. Moreover, such bills may further traumatize survivors by suggesting that they are personally responsible for their assault.”

Moreover, the combination of experiencing a sexual assault, undergoing a rape kit, and being hit with major expenses can have emotional consequences for victims.

“This can be re-traumatizing for many survivors,” said lead researcher Dr. Samuel Dickman, a physician with Planned Parenthood of Montana.

Dr. Dickman and his colleagues who authored the study also noted that the prospect of a “huge E.R. bill” could further discourage survivors from seeking care in the first place, according to a report from U.S. News.

Currently, according to the U.S. News report, only 20% of sexual assault survivors in the United States receive medical care after an incident occurs.

Are Rape Kits Covered Under the Violence Against Women Act (VAMA)?

The 1994 Violence Against Women Act does technically mandate that survivors should not be charged for evidence collection during any post-sexual assault medical care. However, which states actually adhere to the VAMA varies.

Although it is a requirement for states to cover the costs of sexual assault medical care in order to be eligible for certain federal grants, the law does not mandate medical services beyond the forensic exam (that which is used to gather evidence for law enforcement).

“Hospitals can still charge for things like injury care, counseling, emergency contraception, and medication to prevent HIV due to possible exposure,” U.S. news said.

“In the absence of federal requirements, many states have stepped in and do cover additional medical services,” Janine Zweig, associate vice president for justice policy at the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based research organization, told U.S. News.

“But it really does vary state to state,” Zweig added, telling U.S. News that a broader change would help make victims’ care more equitable: Expanding the federal definition of what medical services must be covered by states. And Dr. Dickman agreed.

“That’s what we need – expanded financial protections for survivors,” Dickman said.

How Costs for Rape Kits Can Decrease Reporting of Sexual Assault

How Costs for Rape Kits Can Decrease Reporting of Sexual Assault
One of the primary concerns the new study puts into perspective is the potential for decreasing reporting of sexual assault by discouraging the potential for completing a rape kit at all. But how great of an issue is underreporting of sexual assault?

As it turns out, it’s a systemic problem throughout the United States.

Some statistics underscoring the issue of sexual assault underreporting include:

  • Sexual assault is estimated to occur every 98 seconds in the United States, but the vast majority of sex crimes unfortunately go unreported.
  • Domestic Violence Services estimates that only 310 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police.
  • The Brennan Center for Justice confirmed in 2018 that nearly 80% of rapes and sexual assaults go unreported (based on findings from a 2016 Department of Justice analysis on violent crime).
  • According to the Brennan Center, as little as 23% of sexual assault survivors report such crimes to law enforcement officials.

And reporting of sexual violence is so important because even when crimes are brought to the attention of law enforcement, they rarely lead to actual charges. For example:

  • Out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, 975 perpetrators will walk free
  • Only 310 out of every 1,000 sexual assault crimes are ever reported to police
  • Only 50 out of every 1,000 reports will ever lead to arrest
  • Only 28 out of every 1,000 reports will ever lead to a felony conviction
  • Only 25 out of every 1,000 reports will ever lead to a perpetrator being incarcerated

How to File a Sexual Assault Civil Claim for Damages

Filing a sexual assault civil claim can help a survivor obtain justice as well as financial compensation on his or her own terms. Moreover, holding your perpetrator accountable can be an empowering decision.

Contact Dordulian Law Group’s (DLG) proven sexual assault attorneys today for a free and no obligation consultation to discuss your case at 818-322-4056. DLG has successfully helped countless survivors recover maximum financial damages awards and obtain the justice they deserve.

Our Sexual Assault Justice Experts are here to help survivors secure justice. Contact our top-rated attorneys online or by phone for a free consultation today.

We accept every case on a contingency fee agreement, which means you never have to worry about upfront costs or out-of-pocket expenses when securing the very best legal representation available. Our No Win/No Fee Guarantee ensures you don’t pay a penny until we win your case and recover a damages award.

We’ve helped countless victims secure over $100,000,000 in settlements and verdicts, and we’ll fight aggressively on your behalf to recover the maximum damages award that equals justice for your claim.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you secure the justice you deserve.


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