Rape victims won't have to suffer the further indignity of being billed for the exam required to investigate the crime.
A bill signed Tuesday by Gov. Tony Knowles prevents sexual assault victims from being billed for exams done to collect evidence or to determine whether a crime has occurred. Billing of victims is rare, but it has occurred, according to a news release from Gov. Tony Knowles' office.
``We would never bill the victim of a burglary for fingerprinting or photographing the crime scene, or the cost of gathering other evidence,'' Knowles said in a news release. ``Nor should we bill rape victims just because the crime scene happens to be their bodies.''
House Bill 270 was sponsored by Anchorage Democrat Eric Croft and passed the House and Senate without opposition.
Local police said the change should have little effect here because they already pick up the tab for exams in rape investigations.
``As long as I can remember we've paid for them,'' said Sgt. Kevin Siska, who supervises the Juneau Police Department's investigations unit.
Bob Valliant, administrator of Bartlett Regional Hospital, said the practice at Bartlett has been that if evidence is taken and the victim files a complaint, she is not charged for the exam. ``But if she comes in and refuses to file a complaint and give evidence, then we charge the patient,'' he said.
Linda Hoven, administrative assistant at AWARE, said as far as she knows there hasn't been a widespread problem in Juneau with women being billed for rape exams. Still, she welcomed the new law.
Rape is believed to be an under-reported crime, partly because of the stigma involved. For a woman who already owes medical bills, the fear of an emergency room charge for a rape exam might be yet another barrier to reporting an assault, Hoven said. Awareness of the new law may help change that.
``Maybe that will lessen the fear of someone going for a rape exam if they know they're not going to be charged,'' she said.