Rape kit fund to be on ASNMU referendum

Michael Williams

In March, students will vote on a referendum item which would fund ASNMU to maintain a rape kit, or testing devices for sexual assault victims, to use if they want to prosecute their rapist. Included in rape kits are DNA swabs which can be used in court as evidence.

ASNMU President Katerina Klawes serves on NMU’s Sexual Assault Task Force and has had students approach her about campus related sexual assault. She said one of the largest issues presented to her is the costs of a student rape kit.

“It’s been estimated that rape kits without health insurance can cost up to $250,” Klawes said. She added that students with health insurance often do not add rape kits to their plan because their parents will see it.

To Klawes, obtaining a rape kit would be a response to Michigan’s 2014 legislation which approved women needing to add rape kit treatment to their health insurance. The controversial bill removed treatment from Michigan health plans and now women must pay extra for these services.

Klawes has encountered students who will not put these services on their health insurance because they do not want their parents to find out.

Klawes said there were 11 reported sexual assaults last semester, but that if NMU is equal to the national average, the actual number could be as high as 60. She sees barriers for victims to reporting sexual assaults.

“I think it’s a cultural issue,” Klawes said. “I’ve had students tell me they don’t think victims report sexual assault because it feels like tattling.”

She said fear of revictimization, cost of treatment and the perception that reporting is tattling are, in her mind, the top three reasons victims keep quiet.

Currently, sexual assault is handled by the Dean of Students office. When Klawes talked with the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, she was told that the organization recommends student victims do not go to the university for help, but rather to go to local police departments. RAINN’s reasoning is based on cases of universities ignoring sexual assault reports to avoid bad publicity and potentially lose students.

Phyllis Loonsfoot is the director of the Marquette Women’s Center. She has been contacted by Klawes to give advice on moving forward with the referendum.

“There is distinct protocol put into place that needs to be followed when administering a rape kit,” Loonsfoot said. “After the procedure, the rape kit needs to be sealed.”

She said if an officer wanted to proceed with prosecution and the rape kit was not sealed or administered properly, that questions could arise in court as to the validity of the testing. She added that if rape kits are used properly, that personnel would need to be trained for that procedure.

Robin Aho is the medical office manager at the Vielmetti Health Center. She is working with Klawes to ensure the logistics of establishing a rape kit on campus are in line.

“People definitely want to have something available,” Aho said. “They want to have some cohesive services to be directed to the right place so they don’t have to tell their story twice.”