For one Loyola junior, a visit to Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood was meant to provide an important step toward closure in her sexual assault case. Instead, it made what was already a difficult situation worse.
Six days after when she said she was sexually assaulted by a male Loyola student, she went to the hospital to have a rape kit done, which includes the collection of DNA evidence. But the student said she was shocked when a Chicago Police Department (CPD) detective told her it could take up to two years to process the kit. To make matters worse, the student said she was later billed for her examination, one that is supposed to be provided for free to sexual assault survivors.
These setbacks were only the latest in a series of problems the student faced since she reported being sexually assaulted by the male Loyola student on Sept. 16.
The female student, who spoke on the condition that she remain anonymous, detailed in the Oct. 26 issue of The PHOENIX how the university mishandled her case by failing to properly process her report.
While the student said she was trying to move past the traumatic experience, she now had to deal with a payment totaling more than $1,000 almost two weeks after her visit to the hospital.
“I thought I was done,” she said. “I didn’t want to deal with this anymore.”
Officials from Weiss hospital declined to comment, citing patient privacy concerns, but offered a written statement.
“If a person presents to the hospital for emergency services with injuries or trauma resulting from an alleged sexual assault, Weiss Memorial Hospital’s procedures and policies follow the requirements set forth in the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, the Sexual Assault Survivors Emergency Treatment Act and the Illinois Public Health Laws,” a spokesperson for Weiss wrote in the statement sent to The Phoenix.
Under Illinois’ Sexual Assault Survivors Emergency Treatment Act, hospitals and treatment centers cannot “charge or submit a bill for any portion of the costs of the services, transportation or medications to the sexual assault survivor.” Hospitals may not directly bill patients or communicate with them about payment; they may only do so with inpatients — sexual assault survivors who are admitted to the hospital for treatment — which the female student was not. If a survivor is insured, medical centers can bill that person’s insurance provider for treatment.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced in an August 2015 press release that the General Assembly had passed House Bill 3848, a law that went into effect Jan. 1 and “prohibits health care providers from directly billing sexual assault survivors for the collection of evidence related to their attacks.”
“This law assures that in the aftermath of a sexual assault, a survivor will not be sent a bill for those critical ER services that play an important role in helping law enforcement make an arrest and work to achieve justice for the survivor,” Madigan said in the press release.
The press release also stated that the law requires hospitals to explain to patients that they would not be billed and to provide information regarding who to contact if they do receive a bill.
A representative from the hospital called the female Loyola student on Oct. 11, informing her that the hospital had sent her a bill for the visit, before asking for her insurance information, according to the female student.
“I was like, ‘You are not supposed to be sending me a bill. This was for sexual assault,’” the female student said. “[They said,] ‘Oh, sorry, we already sent it,’ so now I have to deal with this bill … for STD tests and an emergency room visit.”
The student said the hospital representative advised her to reach out to a rape victim advocate, who acts as a support system and provides general guidance and information to survivors, to take care of the bill. The student got in touch with Rape Victims Advocates of Chicago to resolve the issue, but the student said the bill is still pending.
“[My rape advocate] was the most knowledgeable person I talked to throughout this whole experience,” the female student said.
The female student first met her advocate from Rape Victims Advocates of Chicago when she went to the hospital on Sept. 22 for the rape kit, which included an examination, swabs of body surfaces to collect DNA and the collection of the student’s underwear from the night of the alleged assault. After the rape kit was administered, the female student requested that a rape advocate be present.
After all, that’s why the female student chose to go to Weiss Memorial Hospital: It was the closest hospital to Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus that has rape victim advocates available.
“I was like, ‘I would really like an advocate here with me,’ and they said, ‘Well, our advocates come from all around Chicago and are usually younger, so they don’t have cars, so it may take them 45 minutes to get here,’” the female student said. “[The hospital said], ‘The likelihood is that the police will arrive before your advocate gets here.’”
The staff then called CPD to collect the evidence, and the student’s doctors suggested filing a report with an officer — which the student said she wasn’t ready to do, but did anyway. It wasn’t until after filing the report that she was able to speak with an advocate for the first time.
“The hospital told me they had to call the police, and I asked if I had to talk to them,” the female student said. “They said I didn’t have to talk to the police, but it was recommended I did because [they said] I would regret it if I didn’t file a report.”
Although CPD must be notified whenever a rape kit is administered, it is up to the survivor to decide whether that evidence is handed over to the police for investigation, according to Illinois’ Sexual Assault Survivors Emergency Treatment Act.
A CPD detective followed up with the female student to discuss her case a few days after her hospital visit. At that time, the student said the detective told her it could take about two years for her rape kit to be processed.
Cook County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Cara Smith said rape kits can take up two years to process, but the timeframe also depends on the case involved.
“It depends on the state lab staff and the level of priority,” Smith said. “It definitely takes too long for victims.”
In two years, when the rape kit results are expected to come back, the female student expects to have graduated from Loyola, but she said she is not sure if she wants to press ahead with criminal charges because she knows that it could be difficult and stressful to prove she was sexually assaulted.
The female student did not want to identify the male student accused of assaulting her, so The Phoenix was unable to contact him for a comment.
The female student said she felt weakened by her circumstances, and her experiences with filing a report at Loyola and visiting the hospital did not help, but she is looking forward to moving past it.
“I feel a lot better than I did previously, and I think it’s just a change of mindset that I’m not going to let this define me,” said the female student. “I am in a better place now, but, yeah, it was really hard — [there was] a lot of dissociation and I just didn’t feel like I was myself. I couldn’t concentrate in class … it was really horrible.”