Missouri passes bill requiring hospitals to offer rape kits
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — All Missouri hospitals would be required to provide rape kits under a bill focused on the rights of sexual assault survivors that lawmakers passed Tuesday.
Few Missouri hospitals currently have staff certified to gather DNA samplings and other evidence of sexual assault through rape kits, which can be used by law enforcement and prosecutors to catch and convict rapists. There are only 27 sexual assault nurse examiners in the state, according to the International Association of Forensic Nurses.
“Survivors of sexual assault deserve justice, care and comfort,” Democratic Sen. Jill Schupp said in a statement. “Unfortunately, too many Missouri hospitals do not have the resources needed to properly respond to these traumatic situations.”
Schupp pushed to add the requirement that all licensed hospitals provide rape kits by 2023 to the broader bill on sexual assault and rape kits, sponsored by Republican Sen. Andrew Koenig. Schupp said the change will mean survivors “will no longer be faced with the difficult decision to forgo a rape kit or to drive great distances to obtain one.”
Spokesman Dave Dillon said the Missouri Hospital Association is “absolutely supportive” of speeding up the process of conducting and testing rape kits. But he said requiring all hospitals to conduct rape kits “doesn’t make it easier to actuate on the ground.”
Dillon said hiring properly trained nurses will be difficult amid a nursing shortage, and cash-strapped hospitals now have to prioritize which specialty training they can afford.
There are workarounds in the bill to help hospitals that might struggle getting nurses with the training needed to perform the exams.
The measure would give hospitals access to virtual and in-person training on how to perform rape kits. If a hospital does not have properly trained staff by then and a victim asks for a rape kit, a doctor or nurse with the statewide training program would be available to virtually coach them through an exam.
The requirement that all hospitals be able to provide exams would only take effect if the statewide training is available. The health department could also issue year-long waivers “sparingly” if certain hospitals don’t have adequate internet access to the statewide training services.
The bill also would enact a “Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights” that says victims don’t have to pay for rape kits and can get a free shower after an exam, if that’s available.
Rape survivors would have the right to have a support person and a rape crisis center employee or volunteer present during interviews with police, prosecutors and defense attorneys. They could choose whether to speak with a male or female officer.
Other provisions in the bill would require the state to create a central storage center for unreported rape kits and require those kits to be stored for at least five years.
“Thousands of untested kits have been sitting in hospitals and police departments for years,” Koenig said in a statement. “This is unacceptable, and my legislation puts a stop to it.”
Republican Rep. Justin Hill questioned holding on to rape kits from victims who don’t want to pursue charges that “we essentially don’t need” because “there’s no crime since there’s no prosecution.”
“Do we just hang on to this DNA of Missouri citizens who were never charged with a crime?” he said on the House floor.
The measure now heads to Republican Gov. Mike Parson, who has not said whether he will sign it.
House lawmakers also on Tuesday sent Parson a wide-ranging bill that would limit what are called punitive damages, which are awarded as a way to financially punish defendants for causing harm.
If signed by Parson, who typically supports limiting lawsuits, the bill would only allow punitive damages if the person suing “proves by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant intentionally harmed the plaintiff without just cause or acted with a deliberate and flagrant disregard for the safety of others.”
The measure passed the House 98-51.