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Monday, May 11, 2009

What A Mess

American Scofflaw

An unknown number of Texas rape victims are being forced to pay for the sexual assault evidence collection ordered by the justice system, a report by Local 2 Houston found Thursday.

The system of payment is never supposed to pass the cost of the ‘rape kits’ needed for evidence collection on to the victims, according to Kelly Young of the Houston Area Women’s Center. “It is set up legislatively so that the criminal justice system pays for whatever evidence collection occurs.”

Police departments pay the bill for evidence collection, and are reimbursed up to $700 by the Texas Victim’s Compensation Fund(TVCF). If the bill exceeds $700, many police departments will take care of the remainder. If other services were needed, victims can apply for more funding from TVCF.

After being raped by a friend of her 15-year-old son, police officers instructed a 44-year-old Houston mom to make a ‘rape kit’ hospital visit and assured her the visit would be at no charge. The purpose of the ‘rape kit’ is to gather evidence of sexual assault in a medical environment for the court. Evidence gathered in this case was used to convict the friend of her son. But, months later, the single mom from Houston received a bill in the mail marked ‘delinquent’ for her hospital visit.

Steven Dean reported that the Houston Police Department made one payment toward the single mother’s hospital bill, but the remaining $1,847 was strictly denied by TVCF. According to them, the police should have paid.

“There may be lots of survivors who have this happen and we don’t know because they don’t know that they shouldn’t be getting the bills,” Young told Local 2 Houston. “A lot of people aren’t going to ask. They’re just going to go ahead and pay it and move forward with their lives. They don’t want to keep re-living that experience.”

The Texas State Comptroller’s Office, which holds financial data on state agencies, revealed that the TVCF has around $60 million of usable funds. The Attorney General’s office had no response when asked for a number of denial letters sent out to rape victims.

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