BECKLEY, WV (WVNS) – An answer for people worried about the financial cost of seeking help for sexual assault and domestic violence.

In late April 2022, a viral video of a woman in Texas stirred up controversy, after she claims a hospital charged her $800 for a rape exam.

McKenzie Simpson, a sexual assault advocate at AWAY Rape Crisis Center in Beckley, said although rape kits are free in the state of West Virginia, there are occasionally other costs for victims at hospitals.

“If there’s any kind of costs like if they have to further their medical expenses to do follow-ups and stuff, they can apply for the West Virginia Crime Victims Fund which can help pay for those medical costs,” said Simpson.

Simpson said getting an advocacy organization like AWAY involved when you report a sexual assault is crucial, not only for help navigating the legal system but also because they can do things like apply to the West Virginia Crime Victims Fund on your behalf. This is so hospital bills don’t become something you need to worry about while recovering from a traumatic experience.

“You have a client who has been assaulted and they don’t really know where to go or where to get help, and that’s what we’re here for,” said Simpson. “We’re here to help you during the hospital part of it. We’re here to help with the civil part if you choose to get a personal safety order, or domestic violence protection order. And then, of course, we’re here for the criminal hearings as well.”

While rape exams can be an emotionally difficult process, Simpson said they are absolutely necessary in the quest for justice, and finances should never be a reason for a victim to not pursue justice.

“If they want to report it to police and pursue criminal charges, they have to have the kit done in 96 hours. Forensically speaking, the kit is there to collect evidence. And the longer you wait the more evidence goes away. That’s why it’s really crucial for people to get to the hospital as soon as possible to get that kit done,” said Simpson.