Roberti Seeks Hospital Rape Exams

Times Staff Writers

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.

In Orange County, only a few hospitals refuse to examine rape victims, said Sandra Allen, sexual assault coordinator for the Laguna Beach Community Clinic.

But she applauded Roberti's proposal requiring hospitals to perform the exams. "It really needs to be mandated," she said. "It's really frustrating to take a victim to another hospital."

She recalled a case last summer when a tearful young rape victim was turned away by one hospital and then didn't want to go through with the lengthy wait and exam at a second hospital.

"She had never had a pelvic exam before. We had to try to convince her that it would be OK for a male doctor to examine her. . . . It was a long night," Allen said.

The young woman reported the rape at 3 p.m. that day, was turned away by a central county hospital and did not complete her exam at UCI Medical Center until 2 the next morning, Allen said.

Several hospitals in central and north Orange County "have turned victims away because they didn't want to wait for the reimbursement. . . . The trauma of being turned away and (going) somewhere else is really frustrating," Allen said.

California law requires that local law enforcement agencies pay for the examinations, but few pay enough to cover the actual cost, which can run up to $450.

At La Palma Intercommunity Hospital, nursing supervisor Sue McHale said doctors did not perform rape exams because of the additional staff and equipment that would be required.

But if Roberti's legislation passed, "that would not be a problem," McHale said. "We did them (the exams) once, and we can do them again."

At AMI Medical Center in Garden Grove, emergency room physician John Hall said he had done four rape exams in the last six weeks. Hall said he did not support legislative interference with hospital policy, but he added, "I think an emergency room shouldn't turn anyone away."

Roberti 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--nearly half--said they do not examine and treat rape victims. He said a 17-year-old rape victim was recently transferred between hospitals four times before she was treated.

Gives Grade

Roberti said the number of institutions that treat sexual-abuse patients has improved "a little bit" in recent months, but he gave Los Angeles hospitals a C-plus grade.

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

Roberti said 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, said Roberti's proposed legislation is a "good idea" because a victim can get help at a nearby hospital and a "bad idea" because of the evidence-gathering problem.

'Collect Evidence'

"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 counterproductive, 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 said 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.

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.

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