Colorado Supreme Court Rules That Rapists Can Be Charged For The Costs Of Victims' Rape Kits

Hopefully other states will follow suit.

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled on Monday that convicted rapists in the state can be forced to pay for their victims' rape kit examinations — a decision that could help ease some of the financial burden for sexual assault survivors.

According to the Denver Post, the court looked at the cases of two sex offenders who were charged $707.27 and $500, respectively, for their victims' rape kits. The men contested these charges, with a district judge ruling in one of the cases that the exam did not qualify as an "extraordinary cost" because it was used to gather evidence for law enforcement.

The Supreme Court reversed that decision, finding that the exams performed by the "Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner" (SANE) serve a dual purpose. 

"As both a medical and investigative response to a sexual offense, a SANE exam necessarily performs dual roles," the court found, per Mic. "It functions not only as a valuable tool for collecting sexual assault evidence, but also as a patient-centered medical procedure that is sensitive to victims' treatment needs, conducted by medical personnel, and limited to the scope of victims' informed consent."

While states are required to provide the funds for rape kit exams, some survivors still end up being charged. According to Reuters, a recent study found that victims with insurance, on average, paid $950 for medical services associated with rape kits. In December 2015, Slate reported on the issue, explaining that while the Violence Against Women Act prohibits survivors to be charged for their rape kits, there are loopholes and ambiguities in the law.



That's not to mention the cost of other services not covered by rape kits, as Mic points out. That can include pregnancy tests, emergency contraception, medication, follow-up doctor visits, and more.

"It is refreshing to see states like Colorado take innovate steps towards rape kit reform," Natasha Alexenko, founder of Natasha's Justice Project, which works to eliminate rape kit backlogs, told Broadly of Colorado's decision. "These rulings also allow us to open up a dialogue about sexual assault and how we as a nation can allow the process to empower the survivors of this devastating crime. This is another step towards holding these criminals accountable."

Backlogs of hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits remain a problem across the country, often due to lack of funding. (Testing one rape kit can cost between $1,000 and $1,500.) Steps have been taken at various levels to help speed up this testing and hopefully prosecute more suspects. The Justice Department announced last September that $38 million would be put toward to helping solve the rape kit crisis.

Lawmakers in some states have proposed using donations from residents on driver's license applications or tax refunds to help cover the costs of the testing. A Texas representative also suggested giving survivors the option to pay for their own testing.

If more states follow Colorado's lead in forcing convicted rapists to pay for their victims' exams, it's worth asking if some of the state's budget could then be reapportioned to cover rape kit testing and clear some of the backlog, or at least keep it from rising. If nothing else, extending Colorado's decision across the country could help provide further justice to survivors.
Cover image via Shutterstock / Michael Rosebrock.

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