Hospital fails rape test


Some Colorado hospitals may not be up to the task of treating rape victims. That’s one possible conclusion after the recent release of the arrest affidavit in the rape case against Denver Bronco cornerback Perrish Cox.

Cox is accused of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman at his home last September after the woman passed out, possibly the result of being drugged. The woman had gone out with a female friend and three Broncos — Cox, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and defensive back Cassius Vaughn. She told police she had four drinks, but became uncharacteristically sleepy and disoriented. She says she vaguely remembers going with the others to Cox’s place and recollects Thomas kissing and touching her, but that she then passed out on an air mattress on the floor.

She awoke the next morning still in Cox’s apartment feeling sick and uncomfortable in her vaginal area, and says Cox pressed her to take a shower. She refused. Because she remembered kissing Thomas, who was no longer there, she feared that he had raped her. He denied having done so. But feeling ill and still afraid something had happened, she went to a Denver hospital — the name of the hospital is being kept from the public — to have an exam.

And the hospital failed her. According to the arrest warrant affidavit, the nurse who saw the alleged victim informed her that she would have to file a police report or pay $500 if she wanted to have a rape kit done. “Rape kit” is the term used for a forensic exam that gathers evidence from a woman’s body in the aftermath of sexual assault. Because the alleged victim, a waitress, could not afford the $500 on top of the $300 that hospitals charge to let someone walk through the ER door, she left the hospital without the forensic exam.

Although she thought of filing charges, she told detectives she had no proof that anything had happened, and, knowing that any case involving a Denver Bronco would be high profile, she didn’t want to accuse anyone falsely of anything. So she went through the next several weeks in a state of anxiety.

If what she told police is true, the hospital not only impeded the alleged victim’s ability to figure out what happened to her that night and thus begin the process of healing, but it also broke state law.

In Colorado, law enforcement agencies are required to cover the cost of rape kits, whether the victim files a report or not. The law was passed so that no rape victim would be deprived of justice simply because she cannot afford an exam. It also helps police get sexual predators off our streets and is therefore in the best interests of public safety.

This is not a new law, so the hospital has no excuse for failing to ensure that its emergency room staff was aware of proper procedure. But apparently this wasn’t the hospital’s only mistake.

When the alleged victim said she believed she’d been drugged and asked about getting a blood test, the nurse reportedly her that it wouldn’t do her any good because more than 24 hours had elapsed. Forensic experts say the alleged victim ought to have been tested regardless, as evidence might still have been in her bloodstream.

The substandard quality of care the alleged victim received raises a number of troubling questions. Were the nurse’s actions the result of poor training and supervision at this specific hospital? (The name of the hospital was redacted from the affidavit.) Do nurses and doctors sometimes harbor a bias against rape victims that causes them to dismiss the victim’s very real need for quality care and to take their responsibility as caregivers less seriously? Is it possible that this is not an isolated case and that other victims have been forced to pay for rape kits or turned away for inability to pay? And, given how inept the staff at this hospital was, is it possible they broke another law as well?

That law, passed in 2007, requires hospitals to offer alleged victims of sexual assault emergency contraception (EC) in order to prevent a rape-induced pregnancy. Given that the woman left the hospital without being fully treated, it’s entirely possible this option was not presented to her. The arrest warrant affidavit makes no mention of EC.

What is known is that the alleged victim became pregnant by Cox. Evidence that she’d been violated that night came in the form of a positive pregnancy test. It was then she called police to file charges. The evidence that wasn’t collected by the bungling ER staff was taken from the woman’s fetus. When the DNA test came back, the report states, she was shocked and very upset to learn that Cox, with whom she’d believed she’d had no contact, was to blame for the pregnancy.

How fitting that the indisputable byproduct of Cox’s alleged actions — he told police he’d never had sex with the alleged victim — may be the very proof that lands him in prison.

Regardless, it’s clear that a major education campaign is needed for Colorado hospitals. The ideal solution would be to require every hospital to keep a sex assault nurse examiner (SANE) on duty, someone specially trained to gather evidence of sexual assault and other forms of violence from the human body. SANE nurses often mean the difference between a victim seeing her assailant punished or watching him walk free. In this case, a SANE would have known procedure and would have given the alleged victim the care she deserved. She wouldn’t have been left to discover the truth herself by taking a pregnancy test weeks later.

But, given that forensic nurses are hard to find and expensive to train, perhaps including certain criteria for the treatment of rape victims in a hospital’s accreditation process would help. The law is already in place; what’s needed is education and enforcement.

Rape survivors deserve the most compassionate and professional medical care we can give.