Campus confused about rape kit funding and associated costs

Michael Williams

NMU students received a campus wide email Tuesday, March 10 from two co-chairs of the Sexual Assault Task Force stating that a North Wind editorial and article published Thursday February 5 contained “erroneous information,” and that the editorial and news articles “claimed incorrectly that victims are billed for a forensic examination and the use of rape kits to collect evidence.”

The North Wind’s news story quoted Klawes’ interpretation of the law and how students had come to her having been charged for rape kits. An editorial supported an ASMNU proposed referendum that would pay for rape kits on campus. The referendum has since been withdrawn by ASNMU.

The North Wind received a letter, signed by co-chairs of the Sexual Assault Task Force Michael Bath and Kerri Schuiling Monday, March 2 addressing the claims of inaccuracy in the February 5 issue.

The article, titled “Rape Kit fund to be on ASNMU referendum” reported that students would be allowed to vote to establish a fund for victims of sexual assault and rape to pay for services associated with treatment if victims wanted to proceed with investigations into their assault. The editorial made its case based on the controversial “Rape Insurance” bill passed in the Michigan legislature last year which mandated women must add a separate rider onto their health insurance plans to qualify for abortions if they were impregnated by rape. Bath, director of Public Safety, found this to be a stretch in logic, though Klawes maintains the rape kit fund would respond to assaults on women’s rights in Michigan and throughout the United States. Bath thought the article implied to readers that  victims could walk into a hospital, receive a rape kit and administer that on their own.

“That’s not the case, because there has to be a chain of evidence,” Bath said. “When [the article] kind of talked about how you have to make sure that things are sealed…I kind of got the impression they would walk out with it. The hospital would either hold it or if law enforcement is involved, we have a timeline now where we have to go pick it up and a timeline that we have to get it to the state police forensics lab and they have a timeline as to how fast it needs to be processed.”

The timelines Bath referenced are a product of a 2014 Michigan law titled “Sexual Assault Kit Evidence Submission Act,” which was a response to 11,000 unprocessed rape kits found in Detroit in 2009.

In the article, ASNMU president Katerina Klawes said that victims without health insurance may face costs up to $250 for treatment, adding that students often do not add rape kits to their plans out of fear that their parents will find out.

In the email, sent by Bath and Kerri Shuiling Dean of the College of Health Sciences and Professional Studies, Michigan’s Crime Victims Compensation Board Section 18.355a was cited, stating that health care providers “shall not submit a bill for any portion of the costs of a sexual assault medical forensic examination to the victim.”

“I think this is a huge misstep on the part of the administration,” Klawes said. “[The email was] on behalf of the Sexual Assault Task Force, and Mitchell [Sevigny] and I are the student members of that. I thought they would talk to me. They said this is incorrect, and it’s illegal to charge them. I’m fully knowledgeable of that.”

It is Michigan law to use public money to provide police departments with rape kits, as well as to cover services like DNA testing to aid in prosecution.

Despite the law, Klawes said she has heard from victims, including students, who have been charged with the services provided by rape kits. She refused, however, to ask for their medical records to verify their claims. After the article ran, President Fritz Erickson approached Klawes and asked if she knew that students were being charged, to which she said yes. Erickson requested the email be sent to all students.

“I spoke to a victim who said that [the email] is demeaning and misleading,” Klawes said. “She said that because it made it sound like there are no costs associated with it and this is someone who has had costs associated with it.”

Bath said, and Erickson agreed, that he felt the article could deter victims from seeking help and that he didn’t know where Klawes found the number of $250.

“The $250 is the rounded cost of what we’ve been experiencing,” Klawes said. “I did discuss that number when I talked to [Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network] and they said it shouldn’t be a problem because you can’t prove it’s not true. That was a number as an example, that was by no means necessarily the definite answer. I went with the national average of what I’ve been hearing.”