The price of justice? Sounds more like the cost of doing bidness. Since when does one get billed for being a victim of a violent crime?May 8, 2009
Harry Edwards / The Rag Blog
'I'm the victim, and yet here I am. I'm asked to pay this bill and my credit's going to get hurt,' said a single mom from Houston.
HOUSTON -- Victims of sexual assault are getting bills, rejection letters and pushy calls from bill collectors while a state crime victims' fund sits full of cash, Local 2 Investigates reported Thursday.
"I'm the victim, and yet here I am. I'm asked to pay this bill and my credit's going to get hurt," said a single mom from Houston.
She received bills marked, "delinquent," after she visited a hospital where police told her to have evidence gathered. Officers assured her she would not pay a dime for that rape kit to be handled.
"That was unreal," she said. "I never thought I'd be out anything for what I went through."
She was 44 years old when she was attacked in her own bed. She said she awoke to find a burly 15-year-old friend of her son assaulting her. He was found delinquent, meaning he was convicted, in juvenile court, thanks in part to the evidence gathered with the rape kit.
"It is set up legislatively so that the criminal justice system pays for whatever evidence collection occurs," said Kelly Young, with the Houston Area Women's Center, a rape crisis facility.
Police departments are reimbursed for up to $700 by the Texas Crime Victims' Compensation Fund, but many departments cover the bills if they exceed that.
After that happens, victims can apply for other costs associated with the rape kit hospital visits to be covered by the fund.
The Houston Police Department made one payment toward the single mother's hospital bill, but when she submitted the $1,847 worth of remaining bills to the Crime Victims' Compensation Fund, she received a denial letter, telling her that law enforcement should have paid.
"She's getting the run-around," said Young at the rape crisis center, which was not involved in her case.
"There may be lots of survivors who have this happen and we don't know because they don't know that they shouldn't be getting the bills," she said.
"A lot of people aren't going to ask. They're just going to go ahead and pay it and move forward with their lives. They don't want to keep re-living that experience," said Young.
Texas State Comptroller's office figures show the fund has tens of millions of dollars left over at the end of each year.
In September 2006, the balance was $67,058,646 and one year later, the balance was $57,669,432.
In 2008, that figure was up again to $66,572,261 that was left unspent in the fund.
Attorney General's spokesman Jerry Strickland said the crime victim fund is enforcing strict guidelines imposed by the legislature as to which bills are paid and which victims are sent a denial notice.
Otherwise, he said that fund could become "insolvent."
He said state law is clear that crime victims must exhaust all other potential funding sources, such as local police or their own health insurance.
"The legislature set it up that way," said Strickland.
When asked for a number of how many denial letters had been sent out to Texas rape victims in the past, Strickland did not have an answer after checking with his crime victims' compensation office workers.
He said the attorney general's office constantly trains hospitals and health care providers on how to help victims in getting reimbursed for their expenses.
Health care workers and rape crisis counselors told Local 2 Investigates that victims have come forward with denial letters for varying reasons, such as police listing the case as inactive, paperwork being filed incorrectly, or expenses falling into the wrong category.
Young, the advocate at Houston Area Women's Center said, "They're not dotting the Is and crossing the Ts to make sure that the person who was victimized does not have to re-live it six months later because they get a bill."
When Local 2 Investigates contacted the hospital where the single mother had her rape kit performed, hospital leaders quickly canceled her bill when they found out the state would not be paying the charges She now owes nothing.
She said she's amazed it happened to begin with, adding, "I don't look very kindly to them. I mean, I would expect that they would have had a little more feeling for me and they didn't."
Source / KPRC-TV / The Political Asylum
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