Another name for a “rape kit” is “evidence.” It’s the sort of stuff police use to investigate crimes. With pretty much all other crimes, the state pays for whatever work had to be done to get the evidence together. For example: we don’t expect murder victims’ families to pay for autopsies. No, the state pays the Medical Examiner’s salary so they can figure out how someone died. In some parts of the country, however, rape victims are expected to foot the bill for evidence to be gathered.
Another of my FB/Twitter peeps reported a rape not too long ago, and she’s now getting a bill for her evidence. (I’m not identifying her by name. The thing that’s happening to her is not unusual.) The police aren’t even investigating her rape, because they’re either indifferent or fucking incompetent, but they still expect her to foot the bill for evidence-gathering.
The usual response in favor of the status quo is that a rape kit is medical care, and everyone has to pay for medical care. (The same people giving this “reasoning” to my friend on Twitter are also going around telling other people that women lie about being raped, so I don’t believe they’re arguing in good faith.)
If that “medical care” is a non-negotiable part of gathering evidence, though, then…we’re still asking rape victims to pay for something that police use to investigate a crime. If there’s no way to investigate a rape without a rape kit, aka evidence, and there’s no way to make a rape kit without the victim making a hospital visit, then the state should pay for the hospital visit. Otherwise, the state is requiring rape victims to pay for the privilege of having crimes against them investigated, and we can’t even promise them that an investigation will ever actually take place.
What does it mean, in cultural/philosophical terms, that rape victims are expected to pay for evidence of crimes committed on them? It could be society’s way of saying, basically: “Well, you let yourself get raped, so you can pay a little money for evidence to be gathered.” When people get robbed, we don’t expect them to pay for the context in which police are allowed to do their jobs. When people are killed, we don’t expect their families to pay for the Medical Examiner’s labor.
What does it mean, in practical terms, that some states require rape victims to pay for evidence-gathering? First, it’s not just a little bit of money. My friend is being charged $200 for her non-existent investigation, but in some states the bill gets much higher. Not everyone can afford to pay that. Many people don’t have several hundred dollars lying around in case they have to report a rape. The practical upshot, therefore, is that we’re telling people they should only report their rapes if they can afford to pay for evidence.
Which means that, if you’ve been raped, and you’re poor, you can just forget about any investigation being done.
That’s not even touching all the ways in which people of marginalized groups—who, if we’re honest, comprise most rape victims—already have every reason not to trust police. This is just the most concrete, quantifiable way that the justice system is designed to screw over disadvantaged people.
And as long as the justice system is designed to defend the interests of some people and not others, then rapists will know how to choose their victims.
(Besides, it’s such a pathetically American thing to insist that “everyone has to pay for medical care.” Got hit by a drunk driver? Beaten to a pulp by a mugger? Don’t want to die of your injuries? Get ready to pay up, sucka!)