WASHINGTON, DC – Imagine being the victim of an attack, only to be turned away from your local emergency room.
That’s what’s happening to sexual assault survivors from urban centers to rural communities, as many hospitals lack rape kits or the specialized nurses who administer them. But, Congress is now working on a way to change that.
“In 2014, I was raped and I went to the closest emergency room. They looked at me and shrugged their shoulders and said ‘we don’t do rape kits here’,” said survivor and victim advocate Leah Griffin.
Her case was never prosecuted, but she’s fighting for justice of a different kind… To make sure all hospitals everywhere have rape kits — and the trained nurses to administer them.
“We don’t know how many survivors walked away from a hospital and then didn’t report,” said Griffin who lives in Seattle and reached out to Senator Patty Murray (D-WA).
“This problem is the same in every big city, every small community,” Sen. Murray said.
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A Government Accountability Office report requested by Sen. Murray in 2016 found glaring gaps in the system — a severe lack of data surrounding the issue and a shortage of resources, particularly in rural areas.
Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AS) says in some parts of her state it requires a plane ride to get help, “that woman is told don’t bathe, don’t change your clothes, sit here until we can arrange for a flight out.”
Sen. Murkowski is now a co-sponsor of Sen. Murray’s bill — the Survivors’ Access to Supportive Care Act — making the effort bipartisan.
The legislation would study the problem nationwide, establish national standards of care for survivors of sexual assault and expand access to services — including the specialized nurses who administer rape examinations.
“What I’m hearing from hospitals is well there’s a cost. Yeah, there’s a cost. But there’s a cost to every individual who is raped, or sexually assaulted and doesn’t report, doesn’t get their health care and doesn’t get justice,” Sen. Murry said.
“People really understand that this is a problem, and it’s not a controversial one. If a rape survivor goes to the hospital, she shouldn’t be turned away without access to evidence collection,” Griffin added.
Years after it happened to her, Griffin says she’ll keep working until the system changes.
The International Association of Forensic Nurses reports it’s estimated that only 17% to 20% of hospitals have sexual assault nurse examiners on staff.
-Natalie Brand reporting for CBS News