In her campaign to become the next attorney general of Texas, Democratic candidate Barbara Ann Radnofsky is using a crime-victim issue to attack her opponent, GOP incumbent Greg Abbott.
In a video on her Web site, Radnofsky makes the provocative claim that "the attorney general requires that rape victims pay for the rape kit" — a reference to forensic examinations given to victims of sexual assault.
We wondered whether Radnofsky's statement was true. This is what we found:
Under current state law, sexual assault victims in Texas should never have to pay for their forensic exams, which are done by medical professionals to collect physical evidence for the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault suspects. Local law enforcement agencies are responsible for paying hospitals for rape kits in cases in which the victims report the crimes. Those agencies can seek reimbursement of up to $700 through the Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund, which is administered by the attorney general’s office. If a victim chooses not to report the crime, the Texas Department of Public Safety is responsible for paying for the exam and getting reimbursement from the fund.
When asked about Radnofsky’s statement in the video, Torie Camp, deputy director of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, a victims advocacy organization, said, "That’s not true, and if any rape victims are paying for rape kits, that shouldn’t happen. State law is very clear on this issue, and the attorney general can’t trump state law to make rape victims pay for rape kits."
But Texas law hasn't always read that way. In the past, rape exams were done by medical professionals and then paid for by law enforcement agencies only if sexual assault victims reported the crimes. The reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, signed by President George W. Bush in 2006, gave states three years to eliminate such reporting requirements so that all victims could obtain free forensic medical exams. In 2009, the Texas Legislature finally changed the law, directing the Department of Public Safety to cover the cost of a rape kit for any victim who chooses not to report.
For Radnofsky, that change took too long. She says that Abbott could have -- and should have -- acted earlier to bring administration of the victims' compensation fund into compliance with the federal act.
A spokesman for Abbott's office says the attorney general did not have the authority to change a policy that was mandated by state law.
When asked if she knew of any instances when victims had paid for their own rape kits, Radnofsky said she did not.
But she isn't the first person to wade into this gnarly issue.
In May, a Houston television station aired a report, picked up by CNN, that caused an uproar in the advocacy community because it implied that sexual assault victims were being billed for forensic exams, Camp said.
In response, both the attorney general’s office and TAASA issued public statements that termed the TV story inaccurate and misleading. The attorney general's office said that as of Jan. 1, the office had paid for 57,702 rape exams since December 2002 and had not denied any requests for reimbursements for the kits from law enforcement agencies.
TAASA said the TV report implied that billing victims for their rape kits "was a common practice in Texas despite being told by several sources … that this was not the case. … The problem is there isn’t really a problem."
Officials from other organizations that deal directly with sexual assault victims, including SafePlace and the Austin Police Department’s sex crimes unit, also said that they were not aware of any large-scale problems with victims receiving bills for forensic exams.
That leaves this question: Before the Texas law was changed, did sexual assault victims who did not want to report a crime have to pay for their forensic exams? No, according to officials contacted for this story. In those cases, victims were not given the exams to begin with, so payment was not an issue.
However, hospitals have sometimes mistakenly sent bills to victims for their forensic exams, according to the attorney general’s office. But none of the officials we contacted knew of any data on how often that happens.
Summing up: Regardless of whether Abbott took the initiative on this issue and regardless of whether some sexual assault victims have been mistakenly billed on occasion, Radnofsky’s claim is wrong. The attorney general does not require rape victims to pay for rape kits and never has.
That's why we give Radnofsky a Pants on Fire.
Texas Legislature, House Bill No. 2626
Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Chapter 56, Rights of Crime Victims
CNN transcript, "Victims Billed for Rape Kits," May 8, 2009
Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, Open Letter to Sexual Assault Victims in Texas
Texas attorney general's office, Sexual Assault Exam Reimbursement Guidelines
Texas attorney general's office, Notice to Crime Victim Advocates
U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women, FAQ: Anonymous Reporting and Forensic Examinations.
Interview with Barbara Ann Radnofsky, Democratic candidate for Texas attorney general
Interview with Jerry Strickland, spokesman for the Texas attorney general's office
Interview with Torie Camp, deputy director, Texas Association Against Sexual Assault
Interview with Gail Rice, community advocacy director, SafePlace
Interview with Sgt. Elizabeth Donegan of the Austin Police Department
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