Troubling data from a new study released April 20 have revealed that many female rape victims in the U.S. are left with heavy expenses after seeking medical treatment.
The study, published in The American Journal of Public Health, indicates that even those rape victims with private insurance must cover an average of 14 percent, or about $950, of their medical service costs, according to Reuters Health. Insurance providers cover the rest of the costs, close to $6,000.
Lead author of the study, Ashley Tennessee of the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, explained, "Many people know sexual assault is an issue, but they're often unaware that victims have to pay for associated medical charges … With other violent crimes, victims are not responsible for paying for the damage that results from the crime."
Researchers examined hospital billing records for 1,355 privately insured women who visited the ER after sexual assaults in 2013. According to New York Magazine, only 32 patients were admitted to the hospital following their ER visit, while only 7 percent received prescriptions for antibiotics, emergency contraception or other medication.
The Huffington Post reports that 88 percent of the victims in the study incurred charges on the day they visited the hospital, and 27 percent were forced to pay more than a quarter of the cost. About 63 percent of all patients received additional charges related to their hospital visit up to a month after the incident.
"This financial burden adds to the emotional burden of sexual assault," Tennessee told Reuters. "This is an area that society has missed, and we have a moral right to help victims."
Tennessee and her colleagues acknowledged the limitations of the study due to the homogeneous population sample -- the data collected does not reflect male or LGBTQ victims of sexual assault, publicly insured victims, or women facing higher risk of assault due to societal and environmental factors, such as homelessness and poverty.
"Follow up studies must look at the prevalence in these groups … We want victims to know they're not alone in this journey and recovery process, and that includes studying and informing all groups about their access to funding resources."
Scott Berkowitz, president and founder of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, told Reuters Health via email, "We encourage all victims of sexual assault to get a medical exam following the incident. Anything that is a barrier to ensuring victims are physically OK is bad for them and the community."
"Congressional attention has been focused on making sure victims aren't charged for the rape kit and forensic evidence, and there hasn't been as much attention paid to making sure they aren't charged for the other medical costs that result," he added.