Bill would require state to pay for rape kits

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Crime victim advocate groups in Missouri are supporting proposed legislation that would provide greater protection to victims of rape, sex crimes and domestic violence.

SB429 won initial approval by the Missouri Senate on Tuesday and is expected to make its way to the House by the end of the week, said Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau and a supporter of the measure.

Included in the omnibus proposal is the requirement the state pick up the tab for rape kits used to collect forensic evidence rather than billing the victim's insurance carrier.

Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, who authored the bill, said sometimes victims are expected to cover the bill for the rape kits. That can happen if a hospital is unaware the state Department of Health and Senior Services will pay the expense if the victim's health insurance won't cover it.

"It's one of the great injustices in our state and in the country," said Emily Van Schenkhof, policy specialist with the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence in Jefferson City, Mo. "Other victims of crimes are not charged for exams to collect evidence."

Neither are other crime victims required to take a polygraph test, as rape victims in Missouri are required to do. The bill has a provision to discontinue the practice.

In addition, the proposal will protect the identity of sex crime victims that would be otherwise published in public court records.

"That is so important for men and women who fear their name will be exposed and intimidated by the possibility of who will find out and where that information will appear," said Linda Garner, executive director for Safe House for Women in Cape Girardeau, which provides services to domestic violence victims who already have that protection.

The bill also would allow victims to use an alternate mailing address to prevent abusers from tracking them down, and would let them be reimbursed by the state for personal belongings seized as part of a criminal investigation.

Crowell added the legislation also increases the penalty for repeat offenses of first-degree domestic assault from a class B felony to a class A felony.

"Currently, this crime is only a class A felony if the person inflicts serious injury on the victim," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

335-6611, extension 127

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