Minnesota Senator Al Franken has spent his time in office as a staunch advocate for women's reproductive health. In the fall of 2009, Sen. Franken sponsored an amendment to a defense bill that would have de-funded military contractors who prevent rape victims from seeking justice, based on the case of Jamie Leigh Jones, who was sexually attacked while working for KBR - a subsidiary of Halliburton.
Now, the Minnesota Democrat is once more taking up the cause for women who have been victims of sexual assault. Last week, Sen. Franken spoke in front of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs about the backlog of rape kits going unaddressed in police storage, and the practice of making victims pay for their own forensic evidence.
The problem is that some jurisdictions are still billing victims for the rape kits, leaving it to the victims to get reimbursed by insurers or victims' funds. And with that objection, Mr. Chairman, I would like to add to the record four articles...that document this."
To me, the real problem is that this practice is actually legal under federal law. It is legal to bill a victim for her rape kit....Can you elaborate on this? Is it a good idea to allow victims to be billed for their rape kits, even if they get fully reimbursed later?
Sen. Franken brings up an additional issue as to the billing of rape kits to victims, even if they are reimbursed by insurance: that an insurance claim being sent to someone's home could violate her privacy by informing the family, spouse or other residents about the rape, something about which the victim may not have wanted them to be made aware.
Susan Carbon, the Director of the Office of Violence Against Women, responds to that problem as well as others rape kit issues in her own testimony.
In 2009, Sen. Franken introduced the Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault Act, which according to his site, would "reduce the national backlog of over 180,000 untested rape kits currently in police storage" and "also address several other problems that work to deny justice to victims of sexual assault – including the denial of free rape kits to survivors of sexual assault and the shortage of trained health professionals capable of administering rape kit exams." Sadly, the bill was referred to committee, where it has now been for nearly a year.
There may, however, be a ray of hope. When asked about movement on the stalled bill, Sen. Franken's office replied:
Senator Franken has been working hard with Chairman Leahy to include three provisions from Senator Franken’s Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault Act (S. 2736) in Chairman Leahy’s upcoming Justice for All Act Reauthorization bill, to be introduced early [the week of September 27th].
Those three provisions are:
(1) A provision that will require jurisdictions receiving STOP grants to provide free rape kits to victims or arrange for them to receive free rape kits; this provision will prohibit the current practice—permitted by law—where certain jurisdictions bill rape victims and then allow the victim to seek reimbursement from the state.
(2) A provision that will require jurisdictions to report how much of the Debbie Smith grant funds they have used to analyze DNA from sexual assault cases.
(3) A provision that will penalize those jurisdictions that fail to report the reductions in rape kit backlog levels to the Department of Justice with reductions in Debbie Smith grant funding.
Senator Franken is optimistic that these provisions will be included in Chairman Leahy’s bill.
Will the provisions make it into the Justice for All Reauthorization bill? We will know this week.
This post was originally published at RH Reality Check, a site of news, community and commentary for reproductive health and justice