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Senator says state should pay for rape kits

BISMARCK - North Dakota rape victims should not have to pay for their own emergency- room forensic tests, which can cost $450 and up, a state senator says.

BISMARCK - North Dakota rape victims should not have to pay for their own emergency- room forensic tests, which can cost $450 and up, a state senator says.

Sen. Stan Lyson, R-Williston, is prime sponsor of a pre-filed bill for the 2007 session that would use state funds to reimburse hospitals for the costs.

Lyson and Jessica McSparron-Bien at the North Dakota Council on Abused Women's Services/Coalition against Sexual Assault said that some women leave the emergency room without having the forensic evidence collected because they don't have insurance and can't afford it, or because they don't want the procedures to show up on an insurance statement their families will see.

"We have college-age victims who are not prepared to tell their parents and will decline," McSparron-Bien said.

About 250 women in North Dakota are estimated to have had the exam and test after a sexual assault in the one-year-period between May 2005 and May 2006, said McSparron-Bien, but no one tracks the exact number. Likewise, "I don't know how many girls walk out," Lyson said.

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Those walk-aways are in spite of what McSparron-Bien calls "the CSI effect," the phenomenon in which TV crime-scene shows have acquainted many more women with the knowledge that an emergency- room examination can help prosecute an assailant.

The state has a crime victims' reimbursement program, but it has restrictions that some women can't meet. Only 26 sexual assault victims in the state received a reimbursement for a rape kit exam in 2005, McSparron-Bien said.

Lyson said someone recently brought it to his attention that the victims are responsible for the bill for the examination. Until that conversation, he said, "I just thought it was taken care of."

He said his legislation, if passed, would have hospitals that do the exams submit their bills to the state.

Lyson, a retired Williams County sheriff, said a change in the law to take the financial burden off the victims is "a matter of fairness, so young women don't have to worry about it."

McSparron-Bien said the Coalition Against Sexual Assault worked closely with Lyson on the bill. Rep. Ron Carlisle, R-Bismarck, said Wednesday that he has signed on as a co-sponsor. The session begins Jan. 3.

McSparron-Bien said that the hospital procedures and services following a rape can vary according to the women's concerns and circumstances of the case.

Their two most common and pressing worries when a woman goes to the hospital after a rape is whether she has been infected with a sexually transmitted disease, including HIV, and whether she was impregnated. The more procedures and services undergone - such as a prescription for emergency contraception - can drive the cost up to $850, McSparron-Bien said.

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Whether the victim declines the forensic examination or not, the hospital is legally required to call law enforcement and report the crime, she said.

North Dakota's rape crisis centers had 843 new sexual assault cases brought to their attention in 2005. McSparron-Bien said not all cases involve circumstances that would leave forensic evidence from their assailant.

Readers can reach Forum Communications reporter Janell Cole at (701) 224-0830 or forumcap@btinet.net

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