Louisiana officials are working to end policies that leave rape victims with bills for their medical forensic exams. On Tuesday, Gov. Bobby Jindal's office convened various state lawmakers, health officials, law-enforcement agents, and victims' advocates to address the situation, which was brought to light by a NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune investigation last month.
"We want to stand with these victims and make sure we have a solution to help them get the medical care they need," said Shannon Bates, deputy communications director for Gov. Jindal, in a statement. The governor's office is slated unveil more details later this week.
Louisiana and federal guidelines require that those alleging rape receive medical forensic testing (what's often called "a rape kit") free of charge, just as victims of other crimes can count on cops not to bill them for forensic evidence collection. But the Times-Picayune investigation revealed that bureaucratic bungling by both government officials and hospital staff resulted in rape victims being billed thousands of dollars for forensic testing and associated services, such as HIV and pregnancy tests. Some sought reimbursement from Louisiana's victims compensation fund, but this money is only available to those who meet a bevy of eligibility requirements unrelated to the assault.
Louisiana is one of a handful of U.S. states that leaves covering the cost of rape kits to individual parishes or counties, an approach that has resulted in ample inconsistency in the way tests are conducted and paid for. "Everyone is doing their own thing and (in most cases) they're doing it wrong," state Rep. Helena Moreno (D-New Orleans) told the Times-Picayune. Louisiana lawmakers will also discuss the issue at a meeting in Baton Rouge later this month.