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Sexual assault victims don't need to pay for exams – but many still don't get one

About 1,400 people each year were treated in Minnesota hospitals for sexual violence from 2010 to 2014.

Thousands of Minnesotans are sexually assaulted every year. But many of the survivors – for any number of reasons, be it fear, guilt, uncertainty, or money – choose not to get medical treatment after the attack.

That's something the Minnesota Department of Health and Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault want to change.

“We want women and men to know that there are many health benefits to seeking hospital care after a sexual assault,” Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger said in a news release Friday.

The department released a new brief on sexual violence looking at hospital-treated sexual violence. It's important to note though: It is estimated only a quarter of sexual violence victims seek hospital treatment – meaning the actual number of sexual assaults is likely much, much higher, the department says.

But both Ehlinger and the coalition are hoping more victims will see the benefits of getting treatment. There are serious physical injuries that can occur, and often serious emotional and mental impacts as well, which a trained nurse can help address.

But as Feminist.com writes, just because a sexual assault victim doesn't seek treatment doesn't make them wrong.

"There is no right way to feel or to heal," the site says. "Your reactions and your healing process are connected to who you are as a person. ... You deserve support. Reach out to whomever you think can be a support person to you."

If you need help, you can use this website to find services nearby. You can also call a 24/7 crisis line at 1-866-223-1111.

Younger people make up the majority of patients

About 1,400 people each year were treated in Minnesota hospitals for sexual violence from 2010 to 2014.

Of those that went to the hospital, victims aged 15 to 24 made up 43 percent of all patient visits – the two highest rates for any age group, by far. Here's the breakdown.

The group RAINN has said college-aged women (18 to 24 years old) are significantly more likely to be assaulted. Many also don’t report the assault.

Paying for a sexual assault exam

A report in February of 2016 by the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault found victims face a number of barriers to getting a medical exam (sometimes called a "rape kit") after an assault – a significant one being not knowing if they have to pay for the service.

They don't.

“At the time of crisis, a rape victim needs compassionate, non-judgmental, confidential support,” said Jeanne Ronayne, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, in a news release. “It is important for victims to know they have a right to access a sexual assault examination at no cost regardless of whether they report the crime to police."

State law says the county where the crime occurred is responsible for the cost (here’s the Minnesota statute for that). But the group's report found some facilities either don’t know that, or aren’t confident telling patients that they might not have to pay for it. That can cause confusion for a patient, who may be factoring in cost when going in for an exam.

A few other findings

From 2010-2014, the rate of hospital-treated sexual violence went down a little bit overall, with the biggest drop among 15 to 19-year-olds.

The rate of sexual violence hospital patients in the Twin Cities metro was 31.8 per 100,000 people. In rural Minnesota it was 22.5 per 100,000 people. The department's report later mentions a study that found rural victims are less likely to go to hospitals.

Women made up a significantly higher proportion of victims treated at the hospitals than men.

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