As of Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Idaho’s police officers have a dangerous job, not to mention an ever-expanding one. In order to make good decisions, police need the tools necessary to protect communities. How best to utilize those resources dominated discussion at last week’s Idaho Chiefs of Police Association conference in Twin Falls. That debate will continue. However, as we both made clear during our speeches to the chiefs, there is no debate over how we must treat victims of sexual assault.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, one in five women has been a victim of rape. About half of Idaho’s women and a quarter of the men have been victims of sexual violence other than rape. Often, the best evidence police can gather in these cases is from a sexual assault forensic exam or sexual assault kit. Unfortunately, as recently as two years ago, there were no uniform protocols or practices in Idaho to collect, process and store sexual assault kits.
In 2016 we introduced legislation establishing uniform practices for collecting and processing sexual assault kits. The law required kits be processed in all sexual assault cases with limited exceptions. It also required a yearly audit of all kits to ensure they are being processed correctly. In 2017 we introduced a bill setting forth standards for how long the kits should be preserved based on the severity of the crime. Both bills passed unanimously. From that legislation sprung a tracking system designed at the Idaho State Police Crime Lab, which is the first of its kind in the nation.
Despite this progress, there are problems with how sexual assault kits are paid for in Idaho. While much of the money for the kits comes from Idaho’s Victim’s Compensation fund, oftentimes a victim’s health insurance provider will get billed for them. That may sound a little puzzling. After all, sexual assault kits are crime-fighting tools, not medical exams. Can you imagine if police investigated a break-in at your house and your homeowner’s insurance got billed for the finger-printing kit? However, under Idaho state law, hospitals are directed to seek out health insurance to cover the cost of sexual assault kits when it is readily available.
As you might guess, this can lead to some troubling results. You may remember the story from over the summer about a former North Idaho woman who kept getting billed for the sexual assault kit used in her case. After more than three years of being told it was a mistake, she finally paid the $400 invoice because it was affecting her credit rating. She summed up the experience in a Facebook post, saying, “I just paid $400 to get raped.” That is why legislation is needed in 2018 to cut insurance companies out of the mix completely.
No matter where in Idaho you live or what your profession, we all want better, safer communities. That’s why we must continue to identify and clear away barriers to reporting sexual assault so we can hold perpetrators accountable and provide justice to victims in a caring and compassionate way. On that point, there can be no debate.
Rep. Melissa Wintrow is in her second term in the Idaho House of Representatives. She represents District 19 in Boise. Craig Kingsbury is the Twin Falls Chief of Police and president of the Idaho Chiefs of Police Association.