Despite a federal legislation intended to cover these costs, sexual assault and rape victims seeking care in US emergency rooms must pay high medical costs.
The average emergency charge for victims of sexual assault was $3,551, according to a study released on Wednesday by Harvard Medical School and Hunter College academics. Patients without insurance or pregnant survivors faced considerably greater fees, with average monthly expenses of $4,553.
“It’s a scandal that you’ve been assaulted and to no fault of your own you have to seek medical care and then you are held responsible for the cost of that medical care,” said Steffie Woolhandler, a distinguished professor of public health at Hunter College and medical researcher on the study.
Other industrialized countries, like Canada, have some type of national health insurance, and, she continued, medical care for victims of sexual assault is either totally free at the time of usage or quite affordable.
Over 112,000 of the US’s more than 35 million emergency visits in 2019 were for care following a sexual assault, according to the researchers’ analysis of a sample of those visits.
The historic Violence Against Women Act, which was passed into law in the US in 1994, included measures to control medical expenses in cases of sexual assault and abuse as well as funding for victims to obtain evidence, such as rape kits. However, additional procedures and medical expenses can drive up expenditures.
For instance, according to Woolhandler, there is no scheme in place to cover treatment for STIs, broken bones, or bruising.
Additionally, after the US Supreme Court invalidated Roe v. Wade’s abortion protections in June, therapies like abortion have become more challenging, and are now practically unattainable in some regions of the country for survivors of abuse who later face unwanted pregnancies.
Nearly nine out of ten of the 112,716 sexual assault survivors for whom the researchers had data and who sought emergency medical attention were female. According to the report, 38% of those questioned were minors under the age of 18.
According to the survey, whereas nearly 44% of American women claim to have experienced sexual abuse at some point in their lives, just 25% of those victims sought medical attention.
They might not because of the potential for large medical expenditures.
By sending people these large bills you’re going to discourage them from seeking medical care, actually worsening their consequences of the assault itself, said Woolhandler.