By: Jess O’Connor
USC currently does not provide rape kits to sexual assault survivors at the Engemann Student Health Center. That needs to change.
What is a rape kit, you ask? “Rape kit” refers to a sexual assault forensic exam, a medical and forensic exam performed by specially-trained nurses known as sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs). These nurse examiners receive special training and must fulfill certain clinical requirements in order to perform these exams. The term “rape kit” itself refers specifically to the container which includes a checklist, instructions, and materials to perform the exam, including swabs and materials for blood samples.
The entire exam can last hours, but the benefits of having an exam performed after an assault are many. DNA evidence collected from the exam can be preserved for years before a survivor decides to press charges. To be most effective, however, evidence collected during the exam should be as fresh as possible. This means that a long lapse of time between an assault and a forensic exam can have detrimental effects on vital evidence. This does not mean that survivors shouldn’t seek to be examined if some time has passed since their assault, but rather means that it is in the best interest of the survivors to make rape kits easily accessible so that examinations can take place at a moment’s notice.
I want to emphasize that USC is not alone in its lack of forensic and medical support for survivors of sexual trauma. Only four of the top 100 universities in the nation, as ranked by U.S. News and World Report for 2014, provide sexual assault forensic exams at their student health centers. This dereliction is potentially due to the financial cost of the examinations. The estimated cost to train new nurses and pay for their on-call hours and continuing education is $150-160,000 per year.
However, as any student who has seen an athlete riding an URB-E knows, USC does not suffer from a lack of funding, and the needs of vulnerable students, such as victims of sexual assault, ought to be at the top of our list of priorities. It is therefore difficult for me to understand, as an ally of sexual assault survivors, why providing Engemann with rape kits has not been given financial priority. I would like to know why, President Nikias, students should pay $70,000 per year to a school that does not prioritize our rights under Title IX to equal access to education in the event that they are sexually assaulted.
And our rights under Title IX are indeed threatened by USC’s inability to provide rape kits. If a USC student is sexually assaulted, and would like a sexual assault forensic exam, they must drive to the Santa Monica Rape Treatment Center, which is the nearest medical facility that administers rape kits. This is an enormous academic and psychological burden on survivors, as they may have to miss school, and will also have to leave the familiar campus space to undergo an examination during which they will likely relive the trauma they have just experienced. While USC’s Title IX office can make provisions to help alleviate the academic burden, the psychological burden of such a journey should be factored into the evaluation of the academic burden as well. Ultimately, these small provisions do not excuse the lack of real support that would be provided were rape kits accessible on campus, nor do they seek to replace that support.
In addition, the inconvenience of the location discourages survivors from getting this exam immediately, which jeopardizes precious evidence that may be crucial to building a case against their assailants. This delay decreases the effectiveness of any investigation, including one sought through Title IX. While survivors should definitely pursue an investigation even if they don’t get a rape kit, or even if their rape kit was done long after the assault, one reason why survivors may end up in either of those predicaments in the first place is because they would have had to drive more than 30 minutes to have the exam done, and this is a problem the university can and should solve.
Yes, rape kits cost money. But a university as well-endowed financially as this one, that isn’t doing all it can to support survivors of sexual assault, cannot use cost as an excuse. And frankly, I can’t think of any reason why this isn’t a priority, other than cost, that is redeeming in any way.
Trojans deserve better than this. Trojans deserve equal access to education, regardless of gender. Trojans deserve rape kits.