The young woman, who will be referred to as Sarah to protect her identity, was pinned to the wall. The door was locked as he forced his mouth on her, sloppily shoving his tongue into her mouth. She didn’t want it, and although he was drunk, he was still stronger. She continuously pounded against his chest and shoved him in an attempt to get away. Meanwhile, the man’s friends were downstairs distracting the guys Sarah had came to the party with. She eventually broke free but not before being left with an emotional scar that left her wary of men for weeks.
No, Sarah was not raped, but she was sexually assaulted. In the weeks that followed the incident, Sarah’s symptoms could be categorized as acute post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a normal reaction to a frightening event. She would jump when a male friend would touch her and wanted nothing more than to put the experience behind her. She didn’t ask for help because she didn’t want people to know, but later in life, should she put down the event when filing for insurance, she could be denied or ruled ineligible as a result of something that wasn’t her fault.
The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) reports that 248,300 sexual assaults were reported in 2007. In the United States, a sexual assault or rape happens every two minutes, and 60 percent of the incidents are never reported to the police. Following an assault, many victims feel guilty or ashamed and believe that the incident was their fault. “If only I hadn’t worn that skirt.” “If only I hadn’t flirted with him.” The list is endless, and none of it’s true.
In an investigative article published Oct. 21 by the Huffington Post, women were found to be routinely denied health insurance or long-term coverage because of protective medical measures they had taken following their assault. Christina Turner told the newspaper that her doctor prescribed her a month’s worth of anti-AIDS medication as a precaution. When Turner applied for new health coverage a few months later, she was denied because her records indicated she had taken AIDS medication even though she had explained about the assault. As a result, she went without health insurance for three years and now wonders if she made the right choice in taking the medication.
Turner isn’t alone. Several women spoke to the newspaper about being denied based on PTSD stemming from earlier attacks. Now instead of receiving basic coverage for therapy or gynecological exams, some women are going without or paying out of pocket at Planned Parenthood. Doctors and nurses around the country are having to fight insurance companies on what is medically necessary. How is a rape exam, preventative AIDS medication or therapy not medically necessary? Asking a victim if the therapy is medically necessary is like asking if he or she is sure the event really happened. Victims don’t need to be second-guessed; they’re bound to get enough of that from the defendant’s attorney. The fact that women are being denied coverage based on pre-existing conditions such as PTSD stemming from a sexual assault or rape is not only unfathomable, it’s absolutely disgusting.
The United States population is just over 308 million with approximately 46.3 million people reported uninsured in 2008. How many of those people are without insurance because they took AIDS medication as a precaution? A better question may be how many victims have insurance but are going without therapy because insurance companies say their treatment isn’t medically necessary? We’re in a recession, and with the poverty rate at an 11-year high of 13.2 percent, people are penny-pinching at every opportunity. But cutting costs shouldn’t come at the expense of sexual assault victims. They don’t need someone telling them they don’t need therapy, or that they will have to pay for their own rape exam because of an assault that happened years previously.
Sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crimes, and victims are six times more likely to suffer from PTSD, three times more likely to suffer from depression, and four times more likely to contemplate suicide. If women and men believe that by reporting their sexual assaults to their doctor is going to result in being denied health care coverage for their therapy and rape exams, no one is going to step forward. As it is, RAINN reports that 15 of 16 rapists walk free. What kind of message are health insurance companies sending to victims if they’re going to be penalized for receiving help and medical attention?
The purpose of medical examinations and therapy sessions for rape and sexual assault victims is to help them see that what happened to them was not their fault, that they didn’t “ask for it.” But by denying health coverage based on “pre-existing” conditions such as PTSD stemming from a rape, that’s the exact message they are receiving.
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know much when it comes to health care, even though I work in a doctor’s office. What I do know is that I am a 21-year-old college woman, making me four times more likely to be sexually assaulted. If I were to be sexually assaulted tonight walking to my car, my first instinct would be to call the police, report it and do whatever I could to put that bastard behind bars. But if I know that by receiving therapy or taking AIDS medication as a precaution is going to affect my chances of receiving coverage as an independent adult, what would I do?
I realize that insurance companies follow the CYA philosophy to the letter, but these denials shouldn’t be occurring. All around us, people are concerned with politics and money, and I understand that, but how would you feel if your mother had to endure constant flashbacks of a man forcing himself into her because she didn’t want to be penalized by her insurance policy? What if every time you went to hug her, she erupted in tears because she didn’t receive the therapy she needed to overcome her trauma?
We don’t have the answers to these questions and honestly, I don’t have an answer on how to fix this. But these men and women shouldn’t be denied, and as a nation, we need to work to provide care for these victims. It’s a heartbreaking story when it happens to a stranger, but it’s downright maddening when it happens to someone we love.