An Open Letter to Sexual Assault Victims in Texas

Filed Under Announcement | By Annette Burrhus-Clay 

Recently a Houston television station ran a story about a rape victim who was billed for her own rape exam. The news piece implied this was a common practice in Texas despite being told by several sources, including the Deputy Director of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA), that this was not the case. This news story, riddled with inaccuracies and half truths, was picked up by other news outlets and blogs and it took on a life of its own. Activists, advocates, survivors and other concerned individuals from around the country were justifiably angry and began to demand answers and action. The problem is there isn’t really a problem, just the perception of injustice that is spiraling out of control.

TAASA is concerned that this misinformation will have a chilling effect on a rape victim’s willingness to report the crime and get a forensic/medical exam (rape kit). We want to assure everyone that the cost of a forensic exam is not billed to the victim. This is always the responsibility of law enforcement and they in turn can be reimbursed for up to $700 though the Crime Victim’s Compensation (CVC) fund. If the cost exceeds this amount it is absorbed by the law enforcement agency or hospital, not the victim.

Additional medical treatment is not part of the forensic exam and billed separately. All crime victims, i.e. rape, gunshot, mugging, etc. are billed for medical treatment. They are eligible to apply for reimbursement of these costs through the CVC fund. The CVC fund is statutorily the “payer of last resort,” so if a victim has medical insurance it will be billed first. This is to assure the fiscal integrity of the CVC fund and make certain that funds remain available to crime victims who are uninsured or underinsured. Rape victims are not singled out in this process for reimbursement, it is consistently applied to all crime victims and this process is replicated with few variations across the country.

As with any system there is the possibility of human error. A victim could be misinformed or struggle to make sense of the process. This is the principle reason TAASA believes rape crisis advocates are so valuable to rape victims. Rape crisis advocates are not formally part of the systems or institutions that rape survivors must navigate, but are a valuable ally to victims when they encounter barriers or inconsistencies. I wish the rape victim in the Houston story had an advocate to help her through this very difficult time. Our only interest in this situation is that rape victims are supported and assisted. I encourage rape victims to access the services they so desperately need and not be deterred by the perception that they will be charged for their rape exam.

Respectfully Yours,

Annette Burrhus-Clay, Executive Director
Texas Association Against Sexual Assault

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6 Responses to “An Open Letter to Sexual Assault Victims in Texas”

  1. Charli Schauseil on May 15th, 2009 10:22 AM

    Thank you so much for responding and please understand that the outrage was not misplaced.

    There have been previous problems in other states that the National Center for Victims of Crime acknowledged a year ago that go beyond “human error.”

    Even the perception of a problem has to be addressed. All too often it is not. So, again, thank you.

  2. P Baker on November 9th, 2009 8:08 AM

    I am writing an editoral for a newspaper about the “sexual Assault” convection of the Polygamist Raymond Jessop.
    Would you tell me just what is considered Sexual Assault in Texas?
    P N Baker

  3. Melissa Heald on November 9th, 2009 10:21 AM

    Basically, sexual assault is any sexual contact against someone’s will.

    The Texas penal code states that a person commits sexual assault if the person intentionally or knowingly causes the penetration of the anus or sexual organ of another person by any means, without that person’s consent; causes the penetration of the mouth of another person by the sexual organ of the actor, without that person’s consent; or causes the sexual organ of another person, without that person’s consent, to contact or penetrate the mouth, anus, or sexual organ of another person, including the actor. http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/SOTWDocs/PE/htm/PE.22.htm

  4. Christopher Kaiser on November 9th, 2009 3:58 PM

    The offense of “sexual assault” is defined in Section 22.011, Texas Penal Code. Generally, there are two main legal components of sexual assault. The first is the criminal conduct or act, and the second is the victim’s lack of consent. However, where the victim is under 17 years of age and not the actor’s spouse, the law presumes the victim cannot consent.

    Therefore, in a case involving a victim under 17, the definition of sexual assault generally boils down to the criminal conduct. There are 5 general categories of conduct with a child under 17 that constitute sexual assault:

    A. A person intentionally or knowingly causes the penetration of a child’s anus or sexual organ by any means;
    B. a person intentionally or knowingly causes the penetration of the mouth of a child by the sexual organ of the actor;
    C. a person intentionally or knowingly causes the sexual organ of a child to contact or penetrate the mouth, anus, or sexual organ of another person, including the actor;
    D. a person intentionally or knowingly causes the anus of a child to contact the mouth, anus, or sexual organ of another person, including the actor;
    E. or a person intentionally or knowingly causes the mouth of a child to contact the anus or sexual organ or another person, including the actor.

    If a person has engaged in any of the conduct listed above against a child under 17 who is not the actor’s spouse, the person has committed sexual assault.

    There is also a narrow exception to the presumption of the child’s lack of consent where the child involved was at least 14 years old at the time of the act. An actor who neither has been convicted of sexual assault in the past nor is required to register for life as a sex offender has an affirmative defense to prosecution, as long as the actor is not more than 3 years older than the child. In that case, the state would have to prove there was actually no consent–not just rely on the child’s age to prove lack of consent.

    Follow this link to see the full text of the Texas sexual assault statute: http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/PE/htm/PE.22.htm

  5. Amanda on November 10th, 2009 2:12 AM

    I was a victim of Sexual Assuault last week. And I am going threw hell and I cant ever sleep. I feel like I should write an article in the newspaper so that the girls and women near my area need to be safe. It is not safe out there and these rapist need to be put away.

  6. Katie on December 15th, 2009 10:49 AM

    Amanda, I am sorry to hear that that happened to you, and it is awesome that you want to write about it and spread the word. There is a lot of information out there that needs to get out to a lot of people. But first, I just want to make sure that you are ok, and that you are taken care of. If you need to, you can go onto the RAINN website, and find places and people that are near you, and can just sit and listen to you and your story. Take care of yourself as well ok? :)