Sunday, May 10, 2009

Shock And Awe Over Rape Kit Charges Activists Have Been Fighting For Years

Joe Cutbirth, adjunct professor of journalism at Columbia University, writing at the Huffington Post with a post titled, How can Texas ask women to pay for rape kits? wakes up to one of the many injustices still being done to rape victims, this time to rape victims in Texas who are harassed to pay for their own rape kits.

On rare occasion, journalists shine a light on a public policy that is so disgusting it literally stuns you - just takes your breath away and leaves you speechless. Your first thought is they've made a mistake. Or this is ratings hype. It can't be true.

Then, the initial shock wears off and you realize it actually is happening - that it's the system - and it hurt real people today; and it will hurt others the same way tomorrow, and others the day after that, and others the day after that. And you just want to urp. [...]

This is a gut-check issue for every person in public service.

Any lawmaker, mayor or police chief who has to think more than two seconds about the right thing to do here should simply resign. He or she is in the wrong business.

Emergency legislation that bans this practice should be introduced Monday morning in both the Texas House and the Texas Senate, and the governor should sign one of those bills into law the very next day. No woman in Texas or anywhere ever should have to bear that cost.

That can happen if the Speaker, Lieutenant Governor and Gov. Rick Perry step-up and show some leadership.

I'm glad that Cutbirth has woken up and I agree with his call to action, but I'm worried that he and many others will soon hit the snooze button. Part of the reason he has woken up is because of the decades long work many activists have done to see that this injustice stops.

This is in no way merely the result of the out of character decisions of a few politicians in Texas even though their decisions are inexcusable. This is an entrenched way of thinking. As Cara at Feministe highlighted in her post on this subject, there was a US News & World Report story in Feb. 2008 which included the following:

Turns out experts on sexual assault are all too familiar with the issue. "It's been a problem for a long time," says Ilse Knecht, deputy director of public policy at the National Center for Victims of Crime. "We've heard so many stories of victims paying for their exams, or not being able to and then creditors coming after them." In order to qualify for federal grants under the Violence Against Women Act, states have to assume the full out-of-pocket costs for forensic medical exams, as the rape kits are called. But according to a 2004 bulletin published by the NCVC, "[F]eedback from the field indicates that sexual assault victims are still being billed." Knecht says she's recently heard from caseworkers in Illinois, Georgia, and Arkansas reporting that rape victims continue to be charged for their forensic exams.
In addition to the VAWA requirement, in 2008 there was over $66 million unspent in the Texas Crime Victim's Compensation Fund. The work so many people have done has undercut the standard excuse that the only reason these exams aren't being paid for is that there's no money to do so.

What this latest story has exposed is that this long standing reason for not paying for forensic exams is and always has been a lame excuse. The same is true of the backlog for processing rape kits. We as a society pay for what we truly believe to be necessary. And we do quickly what we as a society believe to be urgent.

For those who still insist that these injustices against rape victims are unintentional, please read this quoted section from an article by Edward Greer which was published in the Loyola Law Review :

However, LDF's [Legal Dominance Feminism] essentially static view of false rape claims simply does not take into account that as the sanctions and costs of bringing rape charges are reduced, an individual's calculation of whether to deliberately make a wrongful charge correspondingly shifts. LDF exponents do not acknowledge that if the "second rape" disappears, so to does the very disincentive which is advanced as the main reason underlying the existence of few false reports.

Got that? The "second rape" is intentional. Yet many people who support it won't admit this.

It is common for those who have no problem with this second rape to demand that women be outraged about false rape accusations because this is a crime predominantly committed by girls and women against boys and men. Yet these men refuse to follow their own logic when it comes to crimes predominantly committed by boys and men against girls and women. It is okay with them that men on the whole are not outraged.

Those who defend injustice against rape victims also refuse to acknowledge that rape victims are far too often falsely accused or labeled by the police as having filed a fraudulent police report, denied their due process rights and coerced into recanting. Only rarely does DNA analysis exonerate a rape victim wrongfully charged.

Too often those who have raised the alarm about this and other real injustices against victims of sexual violence are ignored or dismissed because of assumptions that what those people are saying is just too stunning to be true. The truth is dismissed as feminist hype, and people slide into unconsciousness as they push the snooze button.

Canadian journalist, Victor Malarek has woken up to the harm done to those being prostituted both locally and abroad because he took the time to look below long-standing sexist beliefs which blamed girls and women walking the streets or in brothels while ignoring or minimizing the harm being done to the prostituted by pimps, traffickers and Johns. He clearly has no intention of hitting the snooze button on this issue.

We need more people, men especially, to pull themselves permanently out of their voluntary slumber. If we all wake up and stay awake when it comes to all of the injustices related to sexual violence the unbelievable facts can become nothing more than historical facts.

Among the often unbelieved facts is the number of sexual assaults. Just under a quarter million estimated sexual assaults in the US alone for 2007 against people aged 12 and over. This number seems like it can't be anything but hype -- unless you look at how often our systems work against victims of sexual violence in ways which directly benefit those who want to be sexually violent.

Update (5/14): Via TAASA it looks like the Texas AG's original response to the news coverage gave the public the wrong idea. The woman highlighted wasn't reimbursed because of process problems. By state law the rape kit exams are reimbursed through the crime victim compensation fund up to $700 and the rest is to be covered by the local police.

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