A 19-year-old Howard University sophomore is suing the District of Columbia, Howard University Hospital and George Washington University hospital for denying her a rape kit on the grounds that she allegedly “appeared intoxicated.”
The defendants are making various arguments, including the fact that it is standard medical policy to require informed consent on the part of any patients undergoing a medical procedure. Because she appeared intoxicated, her consent to a rape kit was not considered valid, and they claim that as a result, they denied her one.
In this situation, the “too intoxicated to consent” argument does not hold up. The plaintiff claims she was given a date rape drug at an off-campus party, which caused her to become semi-conscious. After this, she says she was taken to a room and raped.
The very fact that she was intoxicated is congruent with the type of sexual assault of which she claims to be a victim. Date rape drugs exist to render women into semi-conscious or unconscious states.
Although standard medical policies do require informed consent, there are exceptions to this rule. According to the Vanderbilt Medical Center, health care providers can provide treatment to a patient “to prevent deterioration or aggravation of the patient’s condition” when the patient is “unable to make an informed choice due to shock, unconsciousness, drug or alcohol intoxication, or similar circumstances.” Why should a rape kit be different than fixing up a broken arm?
Accompanied by two witnesses, this woman walked into the hospital “drifting in and out of consciousness and vomiting,” saying she had been drugged and raped. Yet, her situation wasn’t deemed serious enough to provide her the medical attention needed.
Not only did Howard University turn her away when she requested a rape kit that evening, it denied her again when she came back the next morning, clearly throwing out the informed consent argument.
At this point, the Metropolitan Police Department was called. The police also decided that a rape kit was not necessary. Sergeant Ronald Reid of the MPD Sex Assault Unit went as far as to say, “A sexual assault kit is for police to recover evidence. So if we don’t have reason to believe a crime happened, we wouldn’t administer a rape kit.”
It appears that the real issue here is not one of standard medical ethics or legal procedures, but rather one of people in positions of authority, positions where they are required to ensure the well-being of others, choosing to pass judgment on this woman.
Why would Howard University deny her a rape kit when she came back the next morning, apparently not intoxicated any longer? Perhaps the university didn’t think she was worth it. The statement by the police sergeant only furthers this assumption. The authorities simply chose to believe a crime had not taken place because this young woman was intoxicated — the alleged result of date-rape drugs.
Perhaps if they had just given her the rape kit, they would have all been proven wrong.
The above staff editorial ran in the Indiana Daily Student (Indiana U.) Thursday.