Governor proposes free exams for rape victims

Wednesday, October 17, 2007 | 10:39 p.m. CDT; updated 4:24 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — Gov. Matt Blunt stopped in Columbia on Wednesday evening to announce his plan to recommend spending more than $2.3 million to cover the cost of rape forensic exams.

But nurses at University Hospital said the money won’t change how they do their job.

The nurses are part of a 12-women team that has provided rape victims with free rape examinations, pregnancy prevention and antibiotics for sexually transmitted diseases for two years.

Nurse Brenda Jensen said Blunt’s legislation would cover the cost of evidence collection.

Costs for the morning-after pill and antibiotics to protect against STDs will still be paid for by the hospital. If a hospital does not offer free services, patients could receive bills for a couple of hundred dollars or more, Jensen said.

Throughout Missouri, rape victims must pay for the cost of their exams if they lack insurance or if the insurance company refuses to pay.

“No victim of sexual assault should be forced to pay for an exam to prove their injury,” Blunt said during his announcement at University Hospital.

The governor said he will request more funds from the General Assembly if the requested $2.3 million appropriation per year is not enough to pay for the rape exams.

Blunt said Wednesday he would ask for $1.8 million for the remaining months of this fiscal year, which ends July 30.

Blunt signed a bill in July that aimed to improve protection for victims of domestic and sexual abuse and make it easier for them to report the crime.

Besides paying for rape exams, the bill would also make secret the identities of victims of sexual or domestic assault, stalking, or forcible rape in otherwise public court records; increase the penalty for repeat offenses of first-degree domestic assault; prevent law enforcement from requiring someone who reports being the victim of a sexual offense to undergo a lie-detector test before starting a criminal investigation; and allow victims of domestic violence to use an alternative mailing address at the secretary of state’s office.

In 2006, six people in Columbia and seven in Boone County were arrested on suspicion of forcible rape, according to state statistics. The Missouri State Highway Patrol reported 749 rape arrests statewide in 2006 and more than 1,750 rape offenses.

Both male and female rape is under reported, Lesli Ehlmann, a nurse, said.

In the last year, University Hospital has treated about 60 people, most between the ages of 14 and 25 years old, for sexual assault, Christa Vogt, a nurse, said.

Other hospitals, including Boone Hospital Center and Columbia Regional Hospital, refer rape cases to University Hospital. The hospital has had referrals from as far away as Moberly, Staci Walters, a nurse, said.

For those hospitals that cannot afford to cover the cost of rape kits for victims, Blunt’s plan offers a significant boost, Vogt said.

“I think this is a great move in the right direction,” Vogt said. “This is a small step but we’re moving in the right direction.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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