Double Investment

Nearly half the hospitals in Los Angeles County still do not examine rape victims according to state procedures designed to help collect evidence for use in court. This means that some rape victims are still being shunted from one hospital to another seeking treatment. Each hospital may have its reasons. But none of the reasons can heal the harm that is done.

The problem arose after the state issued new rules for examinations last summer that it hopes will increase the rate of convictions in rape cases. Some hospitals balked at the new rules because government aid did not cover the cost of examinations. They would provide medical treatment for a rape victim, but not do the examination.

"When a woman has been raped, you can't separate treatment for injuries from collection of evidence," said Gail Abarbanel, director of the Rape Treatment Center in Santa Monica. In her 14 years of helping victims, Abarbanel said, she has found that "most rape victims want their attackers prosecuted not only for their own peace of mind but also so that other women won't be raped." Thus they want the complete examination that will collect evidence.

Both the city and county of Los Angeles have increased the payments for examinations to $200, about half what hospital officials estimate they cost. The Hospital Council of Southern California encouraged hospitals to come back into the system while awaiting state action to increase the fee paid.

But the Los Angeles County district attorney's office says that 47% of the county's 138 hospitals still are not conducting the examinations. Last week a 17-year-old who had been raped was sent to Daniel Freeman Hospital in Inglewood, which has not been conducting the exams, and then to Centinela Hospital, which also has not been performing the exams, and then back to Freeman, where she still did not receive treatment. Law enforcement officials and hospital dispatchers had not been correctly informed about who was doing the exams and who wasn't.

Daniel Freeman Hospital in Inglewood has been one of the major dropouts. A spokeswoman said that the hospital had to purchase new equipment and train its personnel before it could conduct the new examinations, which it will begin on Monday. Before the new regulations took effect last summer, it had treated about 70 rape victims a month. Those victims have had to go elsewhere all fall and winter, putting a heavy load on places like Santa Monica Hospital's Rape Treatment Center. The work involved in treating rape victims will continue to be unevenly shared until more hospitals return to the system.

The California Legislature is back in session now, and it's time for the state to pay its share of the bill. Sen. David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) wants the state to match up to $200 in local contributions for each examination. The legislation that he will introduce would cost the state about $3 million, which is an investment in both law enforcement and compassion.

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