Yesterday, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that convicted sex offenders can be charged the cost of their victims' rape kits. The decision comes after two perpetrators contested their unrelated court orders to pay for their victims' forensic examinations.
In 2009, Adam Teague was charged with sexual assault after his victim said he attacked her while she was sleeping. He initially denied the accusation but her rape kit proved otherwise. In the same year, Bobby Rogers forced a woman to perform oral sex on him while threatening her with a knife. In both cases, the defendants were found guilty, and prosecutors sought restitution: Teague was ordered to pay $702.27 to the Colorado Springs Police Department and Rogers was ordered to pay $500 to the Aurora Police Department. The men appealed, and ultimately their cases landed in the state Supreme Court.
The question the Court was asked to consider was whether or not sexual assault exams were considered "extraordinary" in order to qualify for restitution under Colorado law. In its decision, the Court reasoned: "Sexual offenses require [medical professionals] to perform both functions at once—preserving evidence while stabilizing, documenting as well as counseling, collecting evidence without breaching a victim's informed consent. And even after the exam ends, the examiner must remain ready to testify. This dual nature, in our view, separates SANE exams from more workaday investigative processes and renders them not simply extraordinary, but unique."
Read more: When Does Drunk Sex Become Rape?
Natasha Alexanko, the founder of Natasha's Justice Project, a nonprofit working to eliminate the backlog of untested rape kits, tells Broadly she applauds any measure that sheds light on such horrific crimes. "It is refreshing to see states like Colorado take innovate steps towards rape kit reform," Alexanko says. "These rulings also allow us to open up a dialogue about sexual assault and how we as a nation can allow the process to empower the survivors of this devastating crime. This is another step towards holding these criminals accountable."
Under the Victims Against Women Act, survivors of sexual assault aren't charged for their rape kits; those fees are covered by the states. But victims do often come out of pocket for other costs associated with their assault, including STI testing and prescription medication. Ashley Tennessee, an assistant professor of health care studies at the Medical University of South Carolina, co-authored a recent study that determined survivors of sexual assault typically pay pocket almost $1,000 for their assaults.
"Each rape victim is unique, and the care, as well as resources, accessed after assault are predicated upon myriad circumstances," the study states. "However, all survivors of an assault are victims, and the responsibility for remitting payment for medical bills incurred as a result of a rape should not be the responsibility of the victim or her family."
In a previous interview with Broadly, Tennessee offered perspective on what could happen if Trump's proposed federal budget, which cuts discretionary funds and grants authorized by VAWA, passes as is. "Rape kit testing is a significant problem in our society right now," she explained. "There's a crime backlog in many cities, and because of lack of funding. With that being said, if we see considerable cuts in funding at the federal level, those cuts can only trickle down to the state entities who are responsible for processing those rape kits."
According to the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, at least 25 states have specific directives to order restitution for victims of domestic violence and/or sexual assault.