A recent change in Kansas law allows rape victims to undergo anonymous rape kit testing that will be held by the hospital and can be used to file a police report up to five years after the rape is committed:
The victim arrives at a hospital for treatment. She is traumatized. She is stressed. The idea of meeting with police officers would be too much to go through immediately after such a violent attack.
“All sorts of things are going through their minds,” said Heather Whitton, victim and witness coordinator for the Shawnee County District Attorney’s Office and former director of a women’s shelter. “Fear — if it was a violent rape — to guilt — I shouldn’t have been in this situation in the first place — and shame — how could this have happened to me?”
Until this past July, hospitals in Kansas routinely contacted police in rape cases. But now they give victims the opportunity to undergo a free, anonymous rape kit test if there is a possibility the incident might be reported to law enforcement authorities within five years. The only stipulation is that the hospital must notify a parent or guardian if the victim is a minor.
Marcella elaborates that this new law is due to recent federal changes made to VAWA, but Kansas is one of the first states to update their laws and procedures accordingly.
I will say right now that I really resent the mandatory parental notification for a victim who is a minor. As someone who was raped at 14/15 and is now 24, I didn’t “come out” to my parents as a rape survivor until just earlier this year. At the time of the rapes, I thought that I was to blame — and also that I would be punished both for the consensual sexual contact I had engaged in and the nonconsensual contact I had endured. I know that I’m not the only teen who felt or feels this way, and in fact many teens sadly would be punished if they told their parents. Even worse, some minors are abused by family members, and would be punished for going to authorities with the abuse (even if those “authorities” were only hospital staff).
So I think that this stipulation is not only quite likely to prevent minors from seeking the medical care that they need, but will also prevent the possibility of them undergoing the testing and having the option to report later.
But I know that many people don’t share my radical notion that teenagers are people, with rights like the rest of us.
I also know that this law won’t be enough to educate rape victims about their rights. As only one example, many rape victims are so wrapped up in blaming themselves that they don’t realize what was done to them actually falls under the crime of rape, and would therefore never even consider seeking out a rape kit. There’s another category I personally belonged to, and this law wouldn’t do anything to fix it.
Further, this article reports that few victims have taken advantage of the option thus far. It may be because they are unaware that the option exists, or because they don’t want to go through the often emotionally painful experience of rape kit collection, or for the other reasons I’ve outlined above.
The point is that this won’t be a magic bullet to ensure higher rape reporting in the state.
But it is an excellent and necessary start. The ability, as Marcella again explains, for victims to ensure that they are physically safe before reporting, not to mention emotionally ready to handle the trauma that so regularly accompanies pressing charges, should absolutely be a right. Victims who may immediately feel that they don’t want to report may eventually change their minds. Victims who feel fairly certain that they do want to report may want the time to collect themselves as best they can and think it over. Victims who live with their rapist or must interact with him regularly must ensure that they are safe before filing charges. And I find all of those options to be an absolute necessity, both as a way to better support victims and as a way to prosecute more rapists.
While certainly no reason for the state to decide that they’ve done all they can and should to combat sexual violence . . . good work, Kansas. And may many states continue to follow in your lead.