City Desk

Palin on Rape Exams: Not the Taxpayers’ Problem

According to the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, Sarah Palin, during her tenure as mayor of Wasilla, approved a policy to deny free forensic examinations for sexual assault victims. Former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles disagreed with the policy, which was unique to Wasilla, and went on to sign a bill that "[made] it illegal for any law enforcement agency to bill victims or victims' insurance companies for the costs of examinations that take place to collect evidence of a sexual assault or determine if a sexual assault did occur."

If true (some conservative bloggers claim that the Frontiersman is a Palin-smearing sham, which I doubt, as the paper's digital archives go back quite a ways), Palin will have a hard time explaining her decision, even to her growing legion of fans. While she might have been uninvolved with the creation of the policy, she promoted Charlie Fannon to chief of police, and then (assuming she had at least some reservations with his decision) neglected to exercise her oversight authority when Fannon decided to charge for rape kits. The average citizen would likely agree that law enforcement agencies should spare no expense in investigating sexual assault cases, including finding out, via rape kit, whether or not a sexual assault actually happened. Demanding that a person pay for her own kit–which can cost anywhere from $400 to over $1,000–significantly reduces the odds that she'll get tested, which in turn reduces the odds that police will find the culprit and that prosecutors will be able to make the charges stick.

But the worst part about the decision to charge alleged victims is that it wouldn't have saved the city that much money:

According to [Wasilla Police Chief Charlie] Fannon, the new law will cost the Wasilla Police Department approximately $5,000 to $14,000 a year to collect evidence for sexual assault cases.

Cutting taxpayers' burdens and reducing the size and scope of government is–in most cases–a good idea. But forcing sexual assault victims to directly pay for some types of law enforcement services, and not others (unless Wasilla also directly charges residents to investigate burglaries, or violent crimes) is abusive and, in this case, clearly misogynistic. Furthermore, where the hell on earth is a multi-million dollar hockey rink a more important expenditure than protecting citizens?

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  • Rathbone

    Have you seen that stats?

  • Mike Riggs

    10 forcible rapes between 2000 and 2005 would be a low number for a mid-sized population, but in a town where everybody knows everybody, I think it's quite high. And who's to say an apathetic police culture hasn't kept women from reporting cases? (Additional quandary: Why did Fannon put up such a fuss if rape was non-existent prior to 2000? Something's fishy about those numbers...)

  • Rathbone

    It's a suburb of Anchorage. It's not quite Mayberry. Plenty of other states do the same thing--charge the victim's insurance, and if she can't pay, take it out of the state's victim's funds.

    Daily Kos needs to find one woman who paid out of pocket for own kit. Why has she not come forward?

  • I digs Riggs

    i'm liking this riggs.
    you scared me with the olberman blog, but i'm liking this.

  • Mike Riggs

    I think the bigger issue is the policy itself, especially when compared to government handouts for a hockey rink. The annual savings of $14,000 aren't enough to justify the consequences of the policy--which is the impression that police aren't interested in doing everything they can to solve rape cases.

    And as to the stats--if women didn't have access to rape kits, and if the Wasilla police wasn't willing to coordinate their efforts with whatever state victim's fund currently exists, then there may be a number of cases that went unreported, especially among uninsured women.

  • Mike Riggs

    I Dig Riggs: Glad to finally hear a good word from a City Desk reader.

  • SLB

    Rathbone says: Daily Kos needs to find one woman who paid out of pocket for own kit. Why has she not come forward?

    Duh, maybe because she doesn't want to be exposed as a rape victim to the entire country??

    How can anyone argue that this is part of a smear campaign? The article came from May 2000 -- way before anyone was trying to "smear" poor little whiny victim-of-sexism Palin.

    Good thing she has big strong Johnny McCain to defend her honor!

  • Mike Riggs

    SLB: I saw some links to conservative blogs earlier, but I'm having trouble finding them now (a Google search for "rape" and "palin" returns many, many, many posts berating Palin, and none defending her.)

    My guess is that the post I saw earlier, and the posts that will likely trickle out in the future, are from nutty small-time rightwingers who believe that the Frontiersman isn't a even real paper.

  • LC

    Wow, you guys are REALLY wigging out! Let's await more info before you crucify her. Were you anywhere near this incensed upon hearing that Obama was the only senator not to support a bill "to report suspected child abuse while protecting the identity of the facility or person providing the information?" By the way, that bill passed the Illinois Senate, 54-0, with Obama voting, uh, "present".

  • AlieninthisSociety

    In response to -Mike Riggs Says:
    September 9th, 2008 at 3:22 pm

    Great points you made there. Some I didn't consider.

    On Alaska NPR, it's documented that the majority of rapes are committed against the native women and children by outsiders. And the natives live in villages where there is no police protection at all. But this would not be the case in Wassilla.

    However, some commenters on Alaska local news sites claim that native women are often drunk in town -- making them easy targets.

    This makes me wonder if the victims' ethnicity is framing Fannon's attitude, and Palin's by proxy since she's championed him.

  • Mike Riggs

    LC: Maybe there's more to this story, just as there was with Obama's (he felt the law was poorly written and possibly unconstitutional), or maybe it's as plain as it looks: Wasilla officials didn't feel rape kits should be publicly funded.

  • Rachel

    But the law was a state law, wasn't it? That's why the Gov. changed it. Or was it just that one town? North Carolina just changed their state law. And as for someone not coming forward--well, how about her lawyer?

  • Rachel

    Obama's and John Edwards' States Make Rape Victims Pay for Exams

  • al gonzales

    Rachel is just a tool of the right-wing nut jobs. Obama was not governor of Illinois, & did not change existing policy to make rape victims pay for rape kits. Palin was mayor of that little town, & changed the policy.
    Completely different, unless you're Joseph Gobbels & work for John McCain.

  • http://none marlene

    Sarah Palin was the Mayor, the Buck stop with her. She is an bloodthirsty animal killer. She hates women, and think they should suffer because Eve in Genesis disobeyed God.
    She fires whoever she wanted including the Librarian for not banning books. She has some form of self-hate. Obama sponsor legislation so that no rape victim is charged in Illonios and he extended times for Victim rights to claim further rape expenses like psychological counseling.

  • L M Cote

    Most here are missing the point. A rape kit is to collect forensic evidence - just like searching for fingerprints - to determine if a crime has been committed and gather evidence to prove it. Police do not charge for taking fingerprints in your house where you have reported a robbery. So why should rape evidence-gathering be any different?

  • DingoDave

    Sarah Palin WAS aware of this policy. In fact she even signed off on it in her local government budget.

    "Palin, as mayor, fired police chief Irl Stambaugh and replaced him with Charlie Fannon, who with Palin's knowledge, slashed the budget for the exams and began charging the city's victims of sexual assault. The city budget documents demonstrate Palin read and signed off on the new budget. A year later, alarmed Alaska lawmakers passed legislation outlawing the practice...It turns out that Wasilla did not bill sexual assault victims for the cost of rape exams while Irl Stambaugh was chief of police. As chief, he had included a line item in the budget to pay for the cost of such exams. He had only just heard about the Mayor Palin/Chief Fannon policy today, and was just as shocked to hear about it as I was."

    You can read the full article here.