by Leslie Morgan Steiner
The landmark Violence Against Women Act , which provided $1.6 billion in funding to strengthen investigation, awareness and prosecution of violent crimes perpetrated against women, is up for reauthorization in Congress next year. The bill, originally championed by Vice President Joe Biden, has been adopted by Senator Patrick Leahy  from Vermont. Last Wednesday, Senator Leahy held a Senate hearing with six official “witnesses” to discuss a new bill to augment the progress – and identify outstanding needs – of VAWA.
The room was packed, with a long line snaking out the door, so I was lucky to snag a second row seat under the bright CSPAN lights  in a small hearing room just a few offices away from Vice President Biden’s new digs in the Dirksen Senate Building. My heart swelled with pride in our country as I listened to the results of VAWA: rates of non-fatal and fatal domestic violence have declined, more victims have had the confidence to come forward, and states have passed more than 600 laws to combat family violence. What a great country!
Then actress Gabrielle Union , one of the witness advocates, spoke. The 36-year-old African American actress from Nebraska has been in more than 20 films, music videos and television programs in her career, including Ugly Betty, 7th Heaven and 10 Things I Hate About You. But not everyone knows a less glamorous part of her life story.
“When I was 19 and a college student at UCLA, working to pay for school, I was raped by a man robbing the shoestore,” Union explained with great poise. “I cringe when I say this, but I was LUCKY to be raped – in a wealthy neighborhood. The police arrived within minutes, I had the full support of a well-staffed rape crisis team, and within days I began the critical transformation from rape victim to rape survivor, able to participate in my rapist’s prosecution. Most rape victims are not so “lucky.’ In many parts of our country, rape victims are neglected and humiliated by inadequate resources and untrained police and judicial departments and many victims have to pay for their own rape kits which can cost between $300 to $1,200 dollars.”
My proud heart instantly deflated. Women have to pay to process their own rape kits  in the wonderful, progressive, woman-proud United States? How is this possible?
But it’s true. If you are raped, part of the prosecution involves forensic testing in an attempt to gather evidence to prove you were raped, and to determine the identity of the person who raped you. This evidence-gathering is expensive, requiring a medical exam and multiple tests. Many state and county offices, including Sarah Palin’s hometown of Wasilla, deliberately shift this financial burden to victims .
Statistics show that one in six women and one in 33 men are victims of sexual assault each year in the U.S. Over five million are abused by people they know. Over one million individuals are stalked. Three women are killed every day by intimate partners. These numbers are too large for us to tolerate… and even one rape victim who is billed for her rape kit is too many.