Two-thirds of states pay for sexual assault exams using victim compensation funds, and immigrants, non-English speakers, and American Indian victims face barriers that prevent them from seeking help, says an Urban Institute report out today. The report examines how states and localities pay for sexual assault medical forensic exams (often referred to as rape kits), the types of services victims receive, how exams can link victims to other services like counseling and advocacy, whether victims can get free exams without having to report the assault to police, and how kits are stored for victims who don't report. The study said funding for the exams is “precarious,” noting that the exams often cost more than some state-mandated payment caps allow. Exam providers must either absorb the added cost or bill victims.
The report, funded by the National Institute of Justice, was based on surveys and interviews with more than 400 local sexual assault service providers. The report said the majority of victims who seek exams apparently get them free of charge and without having to report to law enforcement, as required by the federal Violence Against Women Act. Still, most victims who get exams do report the assaults to police. The report said it is likely that victims “who do not report their assaults to the police also do not get exams, and miss out on critical medical and support services.” Janine Zweig, a lead author of the report, said, “When victims are unable to get exams, or don't get them in a culturally competent manner, everyone loses. Victims aren't helped, perpetrators' crimes remain unaddressed, and public safety is at risk.”