Originally published in DAME magazine
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It never occurred to Jessica* to not report her rape. After being attacked at a bar when she was 24, she immediately told her friends, and the cops were called. She completed a rape kit that night, but it didn’t end there. She also did a phone interview, and, on a second trip to the precinct, a photo array. Jessica wanted the authorities to find her attacker, and she was determined to do whatever it took to make that happen. Now, nearly a decade later, Jessica might have to pay for her efforts to help the authorities.
“There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I couldn’t go [to the police], because that’s what you do. You catch the bad guy. You tell the cops what happened,” said Jessica. “They ultimately never caught the guy. They called me later because they thought this guy was a serial thing. I felt like it was duty to help other women by coming forward with what happened to me.”
More than a decade after being attacked, Jessica remains confident she made the right decision by immediately reporting the assault. But, pending the GOP-led Senate’s ramming through their sinister American Health Care Act, President Donald Trump’s proposed replacement of the Affordable Care Act, what Jessica considered her “duty” may result in extraordinary financial damage to her life.
The GOP has been working to torpedo Obamacare since its passage, and with a Republican president only to eager to make good on his promise to “repeal and replace” it,” Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have been hard at work to create their respective versions of a tax break for the rich that masks itself as a severely diminished health-care plan. (The Senate’s version was finally revealed today, and it’s as bad as we anticipated. As of Thursday, the bill may not have enough GOP votes—four senators, among them Rand Paul and Ted Cruz—said, “Currently, for a variety of reasons, we are not ready to vote for this bill” because it doesn’t go far enough. Gulp.) Among other distinctions from Obamacare, the GOP’s merciless plan will defund Planned Parenthood and basically decimate Medicaid. And it would permit states to allow insurance companies the option of denying coverage to patients due to their personal medical histories. Those histories could include PTSD resulting from sexual assault, and permit rape to be considered a preexisting condition because a preexisting condition per this bill is any medical condition for which a person has received medical treatment before signing up for insurance. And a preexisting condition—any preexisting condition—can result in people being denied medical coverage.
Jessica was assaulted at a local bar on a night out with her friends. When she went downstairs to the ladies’ room, a stranger grabbed her in the hallway, pinned her against the wall, pulled up her dress and raped her. She was not insured at the time but she found an affordable therapist with whom she worked for approximately a year to help her move beyond the trauma.
The passage of the AHCA, and the possibility that her experience could affect her medical and financial future, are infuriating to Jessica, who stated emphatically that she did exactly what society has always told her to do.
“I did everything right,” she said. “I reported it. I did a kit. I did an array. I did everything that I could do to help them find the guy who did it. I did what they always talk about you’re supposed to do. The fact that I could be punished for that now is horrifying. It would have been better for me to pretend it never happened and sit on it for years and years, so maybe hopefully somewhere along the way, knock on wood, something happens and I’ll get coverage. It’s essentially saying I would be better off if I’d been quiet. I think that is antithetical to all the other propaganda out there.”
Amanda* never reported her assault to the police, but she did tell her doctors. After leaving an abusive relationship and moving out of the apartment she had shared with her partner, the actress scheduled numerous medical appointments and informed her doctors, which included her primary care physician, gynecologist, gastroenterologist, therapist, and psychiatrist, of her history. Finally out of the relationship, she felt she could tell the truth.
“You fill out your surveys and they ask all these things about your personal life: ‘Are you sexually active? In a relationship?’ A lot of them have forms that ask, ‘Are you in an abusive relationship?’ I felt really, really good checking yes,” Amanda said. “I had just left him. This was a momentous thing for me.”
But that momentous feeling could result in equally momentous bills if the AHCA is passed and preexisting conditions return to the marketplace.
“Four or five people who have in their records that I am a victim of sexual assault and domestic violence,” Amanda said. “I had talked about the physical violence and sexual violence quite a lot with doctors. It’s definitely in my records and something that, at the time, felt really empowered to be discussing with people. Like, ‘I’m coming out of the shame closet! I left and I’m going to be OK.’ And now I’m thinking, ‘This is going to bite me hard, if it comes to it.’”
When women report an assault, people often ask, “Why didn’t she report it?” and inquire what the victim was wearing or why she was in that place at that time. Those questions are just one aspect of blaming victims of sexual assault that frequently discourages people from reporting attacks.
The consequences of sexual assault qualifying as a preexisting condition will be widespread:
According to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, an American is raped every 98 seconds. One out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. And those are the assaults on the record; many go unreported.
“People ask, ‘Why didn’t she report it sooner? Why was she doing this? Why did this happen?’” Jessica said. “So she gets punished for doing that. And then I’d be punished for doing what they ask people to do. The fact that I saw a therapist to try and get better shouldn’t penalize me if I have to go see a therapist again.”
It isn’t easy to move on from assault, nor is it swift. The physical and mental aftermath can include depression, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse. Recovery often requires medical treatment, which can also include lost time at school and work. A White House report cited by the New York Times estimated the cost of rape survivors as totaling between $87,000 to $240,776 per attack. That estimate was made in 2014, after the passage of the ACA.
Without insurance, therapy and psychiatry visits can run anywhere from $50 to a few hundred dollars per appointment. An out-of-pocket gynecologist appointment runs approximately $200, with gonorrhea and chlamydia Testing tacking on another $90. A herpes culture alone is another $90, and a hepatitis C (STD Test) another $80.
And women still earn about 80 cents for every dollar a man is paid.
“My life will be 100 percent unmanageable if I lose my health care coverage,” said Amanda, who was so financially intertwined with her ex-boyfriend’s that she was unable to buy a MetroCard after leaving his apartment. “I lived at his apartment and then had to leave. I had no resources. If you don’t have resources outside of yourself, you can’t leave. I feel like I’ve been digging myself out of a financial whole since then. It puts a layer of stress on every financial decision you make.”
Amanda, who also lives with several other medical conditions including an auto-immune disease, added, “If you take away my health insurance, I am truly going to be bankrupt. I don’t have a cushion. I need health insurance. I need to cover what I need to cover. I have to be able to go to the doctor if I’m sick. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. And to know that it’s in danger because of the worst thing that ever happened to me is horrifying. Why that should be a layer in my life at this time is unacceptable.”
The AHCA’s inhumanity comes as no surprise to Jessica and Amanda, who both expressed disgust regarding the disrespect President Trump and his colleagues have shown women for years – especially when taking into consideration that nine out of 10 rape victims are female.
The president has long history treating women with flippancy and even hatred. His ex-wife said sex with felt like rape, he commented on debate moderator and Fox News headliner Megyn Kelly’s menstrual cycle and he said that “putting a wife to work is a very dangerous thing,” to say nothing of the graphic and horrifying Access Hollywood tape in which he bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy”—a statement that triggered memories of past traumas in many women, including Amanda, whose social network discussed the statement, making, jokes about how the action was not physically possible. She did not find the commentary amusing.
“I know exactly how someone grabs you by the pussy,” she said. “You lucky people have no idea what that means. That must be so nice. Why is my entire Facebook a giant trigger warning?”
Like many, Amanda thought the tape ensured Trump’s defeat but she, and so many other women, were wrong, and a noted sexual predator was elected to the most powerful position in the country—an outcome that felt like an attack on the many victims of assault. After the election, Amanda and many of her colleagues did not go into work for three days.
“I felt assaulted,” she recalled. “It sounds dramatic and perhaps not fair to say, but it felt like an emotional assault. It re-opened a lot of traumatic things. Whatever lingering PTSD I’ve had about this relationship and the things that happened… You think, ‘I’ve worked through this. I’m really OK,’ but to have enough electoral votes passed for someone who has assaulted women, among other thing… I don’t know how to do this anymore. What do I with my life at this point? How do I believe in the innate goodness in people? I need to believe it to an extent.”
Maintaining that belief has proven difficult, especially when many members of Congress admitted to not having read the AHCA bill in full. Chris Collins admitted on CNN that he did not read the bill, but his staff did, and Mark Sanford said he “turned through every page,” but did not say he actually read it. This omission, Amanda said, is “just evil.”
“Evil,” or a similar adjective, could be used to describe many actions of Trump and the Republican Party regarding women. While Trump’s agenda is alarming, it is hardly the first time the GOP has attempted to stifle women’s reproductive rights, which have been under attack for years.
“The GOP is upholding a way of life that is built on suppressing women, suppressing anyone who is not a straight, Christian, cisgender white man,” Amanda said. “I have to believe that a lot of them don’t think they think this. I have to, for my well-being. Their attitude is indicative of a complete dismissal of other people’s humanity. To look at things like abortion and boil it down to some notion of a soul or whatever, and pretend this isn’t control of someone else’s body…, You’re welcome to whatever feelings you have about this, but why do you think you can tell me what I can do at the doctor? Why is this different than I need to have my septum straightened out? It’s a very strange thing that it completely erases the humanity of the woman… whether or not they want to be pregnant. It’s straight out of The Handmaid’s Tale.”
If the AHCA is passed, and if sexual assault is considered a preexisting condition, Jessica is determined to fight it in any way possible.
“I think even if I was attacked after the AHCA were passed, I think I would still report it because preexisting condition aside, even more so in our current political climate, women have to look out for each other,” she said. “I would rather report what happened to me in the hopes that they would arrest some guy, stop him from doing it again. We have to look out for each other. I would rather report and save other women’s lives than have it as a potential issue for preexisting condition with something else later on. No one is looking out for women right now, so we have to look out for each other. What are we supposed to do other than look out for each other?”
* Subject names have been changed