Rape Exams Proposed for All Hospitals

Times Staff Writer

State Senate President Pro Tem David Roberti said Friday that he plans to introduce legislation requiring all private and public hospitals in California to conduct complete evidence-gathering examinations of rape victims.

While his proposed legislation would affect hospitals throughout the state, Roberti said the chief problem is in the Los Angeles area, particularly on the Westside and in the downtown area, where there is a lack of hospitals that take rape victims.

"There is a crisis of care for sexual-abuse victims in Los Angeles," Roberti told a news conference.

The Los Angeles Democrat criticized Los Angeles-area hospitals that have refused to treat rape victims, citing a recent study by the district attorney's office showing that of 138 hospitals surveyed 65, or 47%, said they do not examine and treat rape victims. He cited a recent case in which he said a 17-year-old rape victim was transferred between hospitals four times before she was treated.

Gives Grade

Roberti noted that the number of institutions that treat sexual-abuse patients has improved "a little bit" in recent months, but he graded local hospitals C-plus.

"For the earlier part of 1987, they get an F," he said.

According to Roberti, his measure would eliminate the "confusion, the guesswork and the delays" in treating rape victims by creating a "universal system of responsive and responsible health-care facilities."

Under his bill, he said, the state would pay up to $200 in each case, an amount to be matched by local agencies for a total of $400, which would go to a hospital for conducting a rape examination. He plans to seek a $3-million appropriation to finance the measure.

A spokesman for the Hospital Council of Southern California, David Langness, characterized Roberti's proposed legislation as a "good idea" because a victim can get help at a nearby hospital and as a "bad idea" because of the evidence-gathering problem.

"We need to centralize the collection of evidence for rape victims. . . . It takes specialized training and experience to properly collect evidence from a rape victim that will hold up in court. . . . It can take up to five hours," he said.

Any hospital with an emergency room is both legally and morally required to treat injured people, Langness said, but he added that "in the main, rape victims do not have serious physical injuries that necessitate emergency room treatment."

Requiring every hospital to conduct an evidence-gathering examination after treatment of a rape victim would be "counter-productive," Langness said. He said that within the next few weeks, the hospital council intends to issue a directory of hospitals that collect evidence in rape cases.

Langness pointed out that the hospital council has found that at least 55 hospitals in the Los Angeles area accept rape victims, which, he said, is well above the state requirement calling for one hospital per million residents.

Revised Protocols

The state's procedures, called protocols, for examining rape victims were revised last summer, and hospitals began refusing to treat victims, apparently because of added expenses and more stringent examination procedures costing as much as $450.

In his critical remarks Friday, Roberti said he found it "terribly strange" that while hospital representatives participated in helping to revise the protocols, they did not make their objections known.

"I really have the feeling that something went on among the hospitals, and it's my belief, I can't prove it, that it could be collusion. That at some point they simply decided that they didn't want to do it anymore," Roberti said.

Langness denied that hospitals had gotten together to refuse to conduct rape examinations.

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