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How Can Texas Ask Women to Pay for Rape Kits?

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Journalists occasionally shine light on a public policy that is so disgusting it literally stuns you - just takes your breath away and leaves you speechless.

Your first thought is they've made a mistake. Or this is ratings hype. It can't be true.

After the initial shock wears off, you realize it actually is happening - that it's the system - and it hurt real people today; and it will hurt others the same way tomorrow, and others the day after that, and others the day after that. And you just want to urp.

That happened today when I saw this clip on CNN (from Houston station KPRC) that showed the attorney general of Texas (my home state) is sending letters to women who have been raped threatening their credit will be ruined unless they pay for the part of the criminal investigation known as the rape kit.

(A rape kit is a set of items that specially trained medial staff use to gather and preserve evidence of a sexual assault. A woman can decline the process, which can take up to four hours, but going to an emergency room and undergoing this additional intrusion helps document the attack and gives law enforcement evidence it needs to investigate the crime and prosecute the rapist.) The cost, according to CNN/ KPRC, runs $1,200 to $1,800.

Has the state's attorney general lost his mind? Do these penny-pinching bureaucrats have no decency, no shame at all?

The U.S. Violence Against Women Act requires states to pay for "Jane Doe rape kits," also known as anonymous rape tests, if they want to receive funding for other programs.

But Gov. Rick Perry and his tea bagging followers like to demagogue their opposition to federal programs and make media events out of refusing the federal money that comes with them.

So why are we surprised when a spokesman for Attorney General Greg Abbott defends the letters, saying the state's Crime Victim's Compensation Fund, which collected nearly $100 million in 2007, would go broke if Abbott didn't follow strict criteria set by the legislature?

The stink from Austin keeps getting worse and worse.

How can a governor, a lieutenant governor or a House speaker allow state law to be interpreted this way? How can 150 state representatives and 31 state senators - Republicans and Democrats shown proof this is happening on their watch - sleep at night or look themselves in the mirror?

This is a gut-check issue for every person in public service.

Any lawmaker, mayor or police chief who has to think more than two seconds about the right thing to do here should simply resign. He or she is in the wrong business.

Emergency legislation that bans this practice should be introduced Monday morning in both the Texas House and the Texas Senate, and the governor should sign one of those bills into law the very next day. No woman in Texas or anywhere ever should have to bear that cost.

That can happen if the speaker of the Texas House, lieutenant governor and Gov. Rick Perry step-up and show some leadership.

Personally, I think municipalities or counties should pay the cost of criminal investigations in their jurisdictions, and that should include the cost of gathering evidence in a rape case.

And if there are so many rapes in a community that doing so will break the city or county budget, then it's time for another CNN story or stories on local television to expose that horror.

Women should never have to file an insurance claim in connection with a rape kit. A rape kit isn't treatment. It is part of a criminal investigation, and neither they nor their insurance carrier should in any way be forced to bear even temporary cost of this procedure.

The trouble with getting insurance involved is that many women fear follow-up contacts from insurers asking for additional information, and that would be tantamount to harassment. Then, there is the issue of insurance information being shared among health care providers and the invasion of privacy that is unique to this crime.

But the State Board of Insurance, the police unions, the Texas Municipal League and all the other interest groups with their teams of high-paid lobbyists can figure that out later.

This is an emergency, and it is a disgrace to the state of Texas. It should be rectified by the end of this week, and it can be -- if there is any leadership left in Austin.

* * * * *

Clarification: I have deleted a paragraph from the original post, and I want to be transparent about it. I originally wrote: "A lesser but still viable option would be to spread the cost of these medical procedures among health insurance companies doing business in the state by pooling an annual assessment based on emergency room admissions by doctor diagnosis."

After reading comments, one set in particular, I realized I wrote that in haste that stemmed from anger. (A lesson in the age of unedited posting.) The very mention of involving health insurance in this issue - even in the complicated ways lawmakers use fees and assessments to address workers compensation, unemployment and catastrophic acts of nature - signals to some that something other than a criminal act has been committed. That never was nor is my intent.

I saw that subtle inference when I noticed I had referred to rape kits as "medical procedures." Rape is a criminal act and nothing more, and taking a rape kit is not a medical procedure performed after an accident or when someone is ill. It is an evidence collecting activity for a criminal investigation.

My original statement - "municipalities or counties should pay the cost of criminal investigations in their jurisdictions, and that should include the cost of gathering evidence in a rape case" - stands. But after further reflection, it stands firmer and without qualification.

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