Bills Seek Medical Cost Relief for Sex-Crime Victims

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RICHMOND — Whether Virginia will pay for physical-evidence recovery kits for sexual-assault victims is a choice the General Assembly has to make.

The examination kits, commonly known as PERKs, are designed to assist in the collection of evidence for analysis by the Virginia Division of Forensic Science. PERKs collect clothing, hair samples, blood samples, oral swabs and urine samples.

House Bill 956, sponsored by Delegate Paula J. Miller, D-Norfolk; and Senate Bill 312 jointly sponsored by Sen. Linda T. Puller, D-Mt. Vernon, and Sen.W. Roscoe Reynolds, D-Martinsville, would allow the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund to directly reimburse a health care provider for the costs of performing the PERK examinations used in cases of sexual assault.

The two similar bills were introduced to the assembly this legislative session. Both bills are now in each chambers Courts of Justice Committee.

These legislative initiatives coincide with Gov. Tim Kaines sexual and domestic violence prevention-and-response proposals he submitted for the 2008 assemblys consideration.

According to a governors press release the legislative package includes proposals to fund community-based sexual and domestic violence prevention programs and measures to bring the commonwealth in compliance with the federal Violence Against Women Act of 2005.

The proposals come from the recommendations of the governors Commission on Sexual Violence, which makes recommendations to improve the treatment of victims and assists in the prevention of related crimes.

While Virginia has made progress in the management of sexually violent offenders, we have fallen behind in our efforts to address the needs of victims, Kaine stated in a press release.

The federal 2005 Violence Against Women Act says no state shall require a victim of sexual violence to participate in the criminal justice system or cooperate with law enforcement in order to be provided a forensic medical exam or to be reimbursed for charges incurred on account of such an exam.

In accordance with the act, states have until Jan. 5, 2009 to comply with the requirement. If states fail to comply, they will lose federal funding.

PERK kits include materials, instructions and forms used for collecting and protecting physical evidence of a sexual-assault investigation by the Virginia Division of Forensic Science, which can be used as evidence if criminal charges are pursued. 

The governors proposal would amend the Code of Virginia by removing the clause requiring victims to agree to participate in the criminal justice process in order to have their PERK paid for by the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The Code is not sufficiently clear about when forensic exams are conducted and under what circumstances costs will be paid by the commonwealth, Kaine also stated in the release.

The Virginia Crime Victims Act assists the Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund in paying out-of-pocket medical expenses, psychological counseling, or lost wages resulting from an assault. 

A Web site for The Womens Center for Sexual and Domestic Violence Services at the University of Virginia states if a victim agrees to cooperate in an investigation a state eventually may pay for all or part of treatment costs. If a victim has private insurance, he or she can decide whether or not to file a private claim.

Both the Senate and the House bills also would reimburse insurance companies for the cost of the PERK.

PERKs and any additional testing in the evidence-collection process can cost as much as $800 and only the local Commonwealths attorney has the authority to approve reimbursement for the examination under current Virginia law. Reimbursement usually depends on whether or not the victim agrees to prosecute within 48 hours after the exam.

As a result of high-cost procedure and a lack of clarity in the law, Kaines press release said victims may suffer unnecessary additional trauma, and some victims may go without necessary medical care.

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