Did Palin Approve Charging Rape Victims for Rape Kits?
Floating all around the blogosphere right now is the charge that, while Mayor of Wasilla, the town’s police department charged rape victims for the cost of the rape kits used in the forensic investigation of the crime. This claim is based on an article from Wasilla’s hometown paper the Frontiersman, which regards then-Governor Mike Knowles signing into law a bill outlawing the practice in 2000, when Palin was Mayor of Wasilla. Here’s the passage being focused on:
Gov. Tony Knowles recently signed legislation protecting victims of sexual assault from being billed for tests to collect evidence of the crime, but one local police chief said the new law will further burden taxpayers.
While the Alaska State Troopers and most municipal police agencies have covered the cost of exams, which cost between $300 to $1,200 apiece, the Wasilla police department does charge the victims of sexual assault for the tests.
Wasilla Police Chief Charlie Fannon does not agree with the new legislation, saying the law will require the city and communities to come up with more funds to cover the costs of the forensic exams.
“In the past we’ve charged the cost of exams to the victims insurance company when possible. I just dont want to see any more burden put on the taxpayer,” Fannon said.
According to 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.
[Quotations marks and apostrophe in fourth paragraph added for clarity–the link is a plain text file and the quotation marks and apostrophes may have been lost.]
This was a pretty appalling policy. As the article notes, this was not the practice in the town of Palmer, a neighbor to Wasilla, so it’s not as though this was merely a “business as usual” deal. Personally, I scoffed a little bit when Chief Fannon noted that they charge the victim’s insurance company, as though that makes it okay. Last time I checked, the police don’t charge your homeowner’s insurance when they lift fingerprints after a burglary. And what if the insurance company denied the claim? Or applied a deductible? In those cases, the victim would still be left bearing the cost of the forensic investigation of crime committed against her.
Most of the sites who are blogging this story are, of course, stating that Palin absolutely supported this policy, which I don’t think is warranted by the evidence at hand. That said, there’s a good case to be made that Palin was aware of this policy. For one, as Mayor, Palin forbade city officials from talking to the press unless it was cleared by her first. Given that the article directly quotes Chief Fallon (a Palin appointee and political ally), the prima facie evidence would lead one to believe she was aware of what Fallon was going to say about the policy.
Second, I don’t think that Palin could brush this off as saying that she wasn’t involved in police policy because she was, as mayor, intimately involved with the Police Department. For one thing, she was one of the group of Wasilla citizens who fought to install a Police Department in the first place (to her credit, I might add.) Also, as Mayor, she made several policy directives towards the department, including (again to her credit) encouraging police officers to stop patrolling in cars and start getting to know the neighborhood.
Given the above, I don’t think it’s fair to say necessarily that Palin explicitly supported this practice. However, as Mayor, the buck stops with her. She probably knew that the policy existed, and if she didn’t she sure as hell should have–Alaska is notorious for its high rates of rape (2.4 times the national average), so it’s not as though this is something that wasn’t going to affect her citizens.
If nothing else, I’d say that this is fair game to ask more questions and gather information about. If it turns out to be true that Palin allowed this policy under her Mayoral Administration, I would say that that calls into question her judgment and decency.