Access to and quality of sexual assault exams varies across MN, report finds

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Sexual assault victims can face a number of barriers to getting a medical exam afterward – including being told they need to travel to a different health facility, uncertainty over whether they have to pay for it, and poor training for people conducting the exams, a new report says.

A report by the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault – which asks, in essence, "How are we doing?" when it comes to these exams – found some facilities don't have the training or resources to offer quality forensic exams. That in turn can result in a victim being told to go elsewhere, which then lessens the chance they'll end up getting an exam.

These issues are more pronounced in greater Minnesota compared to the Twin Cities, the report says.

"Some victims have access to high quality exams by a healthcare professional who has received specialized training to conduct these medical forensic exams," said coordinator Kari Ogrodowski in a news release, "whereas victims in other parts of the state will present at their town’s hospital and be told they need to go to a different facility — oftentimes many miles away — in order to receive an exam.”

Ogrodowski called the quality issues the "most salient" finding in the report.

There are also inconsistencies with billing – according to the group, state law says victims do not have to pay for sexual assault exams, with the county where the crime occurred responsible for the cost (here's the Minnesota statute for that). But the report found some facilities either don't know that, or aren't confident telling patients that they might not have to pay for it.

The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network says a forensic exam (sometimes reffered to as a "rape kit") is often an "important tool" for criminal investigation follow-up. It increases the chances of identifying and charging the suspect, since DNA evidence carries a lot of weight in court.

RAINN also says DNA evidence usually needs to be collected within 72 hours, though sometimes evidence can be gather after that timeframe.

You can read the full findings of the report here.

Details from the report

Here's a look at some of the more detailed findings in the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault's report.

  • A total of 139 facilities or other involved groups responded to the survey, including nurse examiners or other healthcare workers, advocates, law enforcement, prosecution and corrections.
  • Of those respondents, 25 said victims "sometimes" or "often" received bills related to the exam – which would technically be illegal under state law. (See the graph higher up in the story for details.)
  • About 30 percent of respondents said they weren't confident telling victims they won't be billed. If they don't understand the payment laws, then it's likely victims don't either, the report says. It also suggests some respondents might believe victims do have to pay for all or parts of the exam.
  • About half of those that answered said victims "sometimes" or "often" have to wait more than an hour before getting an exam – which deters patients from getting one, and can even affect the viability of evidence.
  • About one-third of respondents said victims "sometimes" or "often" are told to go to a different facility to get the exam. That can be a significant barrier for victims, especially those that don't have reliable transportation options.

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