Election 2010: Minnesota Candidate Thinks Rape Victims Should Pay Rape Kit Costs

Robin Marty

Should the state put someone who tried to make rape victims pay for part of their rape kits in charge of a domestic assault recovery program?

There has been a great deal of misogyny against rape victims that has come out during this year’s election cycle.  Nevada senate candidate Sharron Angle suggested that rape victims make lemonade out of a lemon situation and have their rapists babies if they get pregnant.  Colorado senate candidate Ken Buck once told a victim seeking to press charges that she was probably just having a case of “buyers remorse” over sleeping with the attacker.

As campaigns progress and rhetoric heats up, it becomes more and more clear that a subset of Republican candidates believe that rape victims bear at least some of the blame for their own attacks.  And in the case of one candidate in Minnesota, he feels they should pay for it, as well.  Literally.

Dan “Doc” Severson, the Republican Minnesota Secretary of State candidate, is running on a platform of repealing many of the voter laws that have helped ensure everyone who has the right to vote is able to do so; he wants to eliminate same day registration and demanding all voters have photo ID.  But it’s his touted past as Republican House Minority Whip that shows his more of his true personality.  Severson points to his role in developing the “vision and direction” of the Republican caucus, especially in his leadership capacities on Veteran and Public Health committees.

One issue that was part of his “vision and direction”?  Asking rape victims to pick up part of the cost of their own rape kits.

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A traditional rape kit, which can be obtained at hospital emergency rooms, consists of:

[L]ittle boxes, microscope slides, and plastic bags. These are used to collect fibers from clothing, hair, and bodily fluids such as saliva and semen, which can help identify the rapist. Altogether, this evidence may be used to prosecute a rapist.

After the collection of forensic evidence, a blood test is done. The blood tests check for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases and infections. Samples of cervical tissue are taken and sent for laboratory analysis. You’ll need to see your own doctor sometime within two weeks following your emergency room visit to review the results of these tests. Your doctor will prescribe treatment for any positive results revealed by these lab tests.

There are standard procedures encouraged for victims of sexual assault, including requests not to shower or change clothes, as well as tests that will be performed and medications provided.

Minnesota’s original bill read: “The applicability of this section does not depend on whether the victim reports the offense to law enforcement or the existence or status of any investigation or prosecution.”

Severson’s proposed change stated: “If the victim refuses to substantiate the assault and file a report with a law enforcement agency, the counties are liable for only 50 percent of the total costs of the examination…”  In other words, should a victim of rape or sexual assault go to a hospital and have an examination done and rape kit created, if she then decides not to report the crime she will then need to pay for half of the costs associated with the collection and processing.

Why does this matter?  After all, if the victim creates a kit and then decides not to report the crime, why shouldn’t she be held responsible for some of the costs?  Well, for one thing, it is a sad but unfortunately true fact that many people do not end up reporting their sexual assaults in the end, either out of fear of repercussions.

According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, 77 percent of rapes are committed by non-strangers, and a woman is four times more likely to be raped by an acquaintance than by a stranger.  Because many of the woman assaulted know their attackers, less than 2 percent of those acquaintance rapes are in the end reported to the police.

Broken down, that means a majority of women are raped by people they know, and most of them tend not to report the crime.  Acquaintance rape is harder to prosecute, especially if it is someone the woman has already had sex with previously, and even women who intend to go forward with the case can be talked out of it, as we saw in the 2005 Colorado rape case involving Ken Buck.

Should a woman go into the hospital and have a kit created, then decide not to file a police report out of fear, embarrassment, or say, a police officer or lawyer who convinces her that she doesn’t really have a case and doesn’t want to put herself through the emotional process that prosecution would require, she is then responsible for paying half of the costs of the kit, which could range anywhere from $500-$2000 depending on the administrative costs of the hospital.

As one Minnesota writer put it:

Do you [Candidate Severson] believe that a victim who is too traumatized to “cooperate” with law enforcement should forfeit the right to have the crime fully investigated? Do you really think that a rape victim who is in an abusive family situation and fears further violence doesn’t deserve law enforcement services unless she pays money for them? What other federal laws designed to help victims of criminal acts would you have the State of Minnesota ignore? Or do you think rape is somehow different from other crimes?

Still, the bill (which was defeated during session) may have been Severson’s idea while in the legislature, but now he is running for Secretary of State, a role that has more to do with elections, campaign finance and business administration than writing hurtful and unjust legislation targeting women.  Why does this even matter anymore?

Because the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office, beyond all of the other duties, also oversees the Safe at Home Program, a special service offered to victims of abuse and others who may have a need to conceal their addresses to avoid physical or emotional harm.

Safe at Home is a program offered by the Secretary of State’s office in collaboration with local victim service providers. This program became effective September 1, 2007 and is designed to help survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, or others who fear for their safety establish a confidential address.

The intent of Safe at Home is to allow its participants to go about their lives, interacting with public and private entities, without leaving traces of where they really live in an attempt to keep their abuser from locating them.

In its three years of service, the Safe at Home program has assisted over 800 women in the state begin recovering from abuse, assault or stalking by providing them with the support to not leave a paper trail for a former attacker to track them with. How long after winning would it take Severson, a man who believes that women should be required to pay a portion of their own rape kits after being sexually assaulted, to ask women to pay for their own annonymity via the Safe at Home program.  Or, even worse, for him to eliminate it all together in the name of “fiscal responsibility?”

There’s a growing sense that those who believe that women should be required to shoulder a portion of their own costs for investigating a sexual assault do so because they believe women shoulder part of the blame for having been assaulted.  To cloak their “blame the victim” mentality, they instead find a way to punish them, stating that they are simply trying to eliminate excess government costs.

On the federal level, Minnesota Senator Al Franken has been working hard to ensure that laws are changed to mandate all women are free from obligation to pay for any part of their rape kits, regardless of the circumstances surrounding their attacks or subsequent police action. Meanwhile, locally we find a candidate who finds no issues with asking a woman put out her own money after being sexually attacked.  And that candidate could potentially be in charge of a program meant to protect victims of stalking, assault and domestic violence.

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