Last week, Amanda Hess wrote an excellent and completely infuriating piece for The Washington City Paper called, "Test Case: You're Not a Rape Victim Unless Police Say So" about one woman's unbelievably frustrating struggle to get a rape kit. (I definitely recommend reading the piece, but it could be triggering so keep that in mind.)
Anyway, as one astute Bitch reader reminded us, this woman's story was also covered in issue 38 of the magazine back in 2007 (Lost & Found, p 16), and as the reader said, "It was a small article then but I was so disturbed and had often wondered what had become of the woman mentioned since. I believe it is the same person [covered in Hess' piece], and now knowing the details am even more disturbed and angry at her treatment. I think other readers may appreciate the story as well." Reader, you were right: It is the same woman, and, unfortunately, things haven't improved much.
In the 2007 article, "From the 'Things that make us stabby' files," Bitch editor/creative director Andi Zeisler briefly describes a Howard University student's thwarted attempts at getting a rape kit after visiting two different hospitals (Howard University and George Washington) and getting the D.C. police involved. She was denied on all fronts – for various reasons including that she "appeared intoxicated," regardless of the fact that date-rape drugs produce that exact effect – and she rightly filed a lawsuit. Andi concludes by saying,
To the long list of things women shouldn't do it they want their claims of rape to be taken seriously–wear short skirts, high heels, or nice underwear; be a nonvirgin; be attractive and/or friendly; stay out late; have a drink; have the temerity to be someplace alone–we can now add, 'appear intoxicated, even if the intoxication was utterly inadvertent and, hello, a crime in itself.' Good to know!
Well, Amanda Hess' article, written over two years later, doesn't give us too much to celebrate in this particular case. Hannah (the pseudonym given to the woman in question) was never able to get the rape kit she requested. From the article:
Hannah eventually showered, brushed her teeth, changed her clothes. The pain in her rectum and hip subsided and she stopped limping. By January of 2007, Hannah had completed the course of HIV prophylactics and recovered from her nausea. The following summer, she went on a diet and lost the weight she had gained after the assault. The nightmares became less frequent. Now, the only evidence Hannah retains of the possible rape are her unwashed panties and T-shirt from the night of the incident, which her sister wrapped in a plastic bag and placed in her closet for safekeeping.
"I didn't seek to sue Bilal [the suspected rapist] or anyone because I had no evidence in my hand," Hannah testified. "I'm not going to put somebody's life in my hand like my life was played with at Howard University Hospital. If I had received a rape kit, then maybe I could have done something."
However, when it comes to the availability of rape kits, there is a bit of good news to be had here:
In 2009, the Violence Against Women Act of 2005 went into effect, which requires jurisdictions to provide rape kits to victims regardless of police authorization. Now, when a rape victim reports to the hospital, she can receive a rape kit even if she's reluctant to report the crime to police—or if police are reluctant to investigate her claims.
Of course, as Hess points out, the police receive the rape kits and are then able to do what they wish with them after a 90-day waiting period, so situation similar to Hannah's (e.g., you believe you were raped but the police/hospital/university people make you jump through so many hoops that you end up unable to take your case to court) could still occur. Which fucking sucks.
Thanks to the reader who made the connection between the Washington City Paper article and the Bitch article. Too bad this story didn't have a very happy ending.