Suit disputes GW Hospital rape policies

A student at Howard, who is suing GW because she said she was given improper care at GW Hospital, is now alleging that the school has failed to produce adequate documentation of its rape response procedure and also altered key rape information on a GW Web site.

The senior sued the University and GW Hospital in August 2007 for negligence and malpractice because she said she was unfairly denied a rape kit at GW Hospital after suspecting she had been raped at an off-campus party near Howard. She also sued the D.C. government and Howard.

Soon after the party on Dec. 9, 2006, the plaintiff, whose name is being withheld because she is an alleged rape victim, went to Howard University Hospital and said she had unprotected sex while drunk and needed preventative STD medication, according to court documents filed by GW.

She then told a Metropolitan Police Department officer that she had blacked out and needed a rape kit to determine whether she was raped, according to court documents. A rape kit consists of bodily fluids taken from a rape victim to identify a perpetrator.

Hours later she arrived at GW Hospital, where a doctor examined her rectal and vaginal extremities and determined that there were no visible indications of rape. One of the nurses then contacted MPD, who told them not to perform a rape kit on the woman, according to court documents. They then released her with a prescription for preventative HIV medication.

After more than a year of litigation, the plaintiff is now alleging that GW has failed to provide adequate documentation explaining why police approval was needed to perform a rape kit.

Her attorney, Bruce Spiva, also said the University has been dishonest about their ability to provide rape kits without police approval.

Spiva cites a change to the University Police Department Web site, which encourages potential rape victims to get a rape kit because “even if you have not been physically hurt, this forensic exam is strongly recommended to maintain all your legal options.” In 2006, it instructed victims to get their exam at GW Hospital or Howard University Hospital, according to an archived version of the site, but it was changed to instruct victims to go to two other local hospitals.

“The issue is George Washington University Hospital and George Washington University have claimed they don’t do those exams at George Washington University Hospital, at least without police authority,” Spiva said. “And George Washington University on its police Web site has said students can go to the George Washington University Hospital and get this test for a fee or they could go to Howard and get it for free.”

He added, “during the course of the litigation … they changed the Web site, which is pretty irregular.”

The University has contended in court documents that the changes were made because of a new administration for the rape kit program. University spokeswoman Tracy Schario would not comment on the case or the Web site, citing a policy of not commenting on ongoing litigation.

GW and the other defendants in the case are also challenging the plaintiff’s statements that she has post-traumatic stress disorder, according to court documents. The plaintiff was diagnosed with PTSD by one of her own experts on Oct. 20, 2008, allegedly stemming in part from negligence by GW Hospital, court documents said.

The defendants are requesting that the court force the plaintiff to submit to independent psychological tests so they have the opportunity to challenge the PTSD diagnosis, court documents said. According to the defendants, they were notified of the PTSD diagnosis in an untimely manner.

Symptoms of PTSD could include reliving the experience, feeling numb and having an exaggerated startle reflex, professor of counseling Sylvia Marotta said. Years may pass between the event and onset of symptoms, she added.

GW and other defendants said in court documents that the PTSD diagnosis came as a surprise because the plaintiff withheld the diagnosis until Dec. 1, 2008.

The plaintiff is asking for compensatory damages, a court order to have her case properly investigated and a revision of GW Hospital’s rape treatment policies.

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