It looks like the Sarah Palin rape-kit myth is still alive and flourishing. A reader sent along this editorial in the New York Times today by Dorothy Samuels decrying the policy and asking Palin to give voters an explanation.
Unfortunately, all this piece does is help perpetuate the myth. Thankfully, in addition to the blog posts I linked to in my first post about this, Jim Geraghty at the National Review Online has done his own thorough debunking, which I quote from below.
Samuels writes: "[W]hen news of Wasilla's practice of billing rape victims got around, Alaska's State Legislature approved a bill in 2000 to stop it." However, the Alaska state legislature did NOT pass the bill in response to Wasilla's policy of charging rape victims. As Geraghty points out, the bill came about because hospitals were charging victims.
Lauree Hugonin, director of the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, spoke at several committee meetings. She noted in response to Smith's comment that while he had not found an instance where law enforcement has forwarded a bill, "hospitals have. It has happened in the Mat-Su Valley, on the Kenai Peninsula, and in Southeast, and that is why the bill is being brought forward."
Further evidence that the law was not targeted at Wasilla:
Yet in six committee meetings, Wasilla was never mentioned, even when the discussion turned to the specific topic of where victims were being charged. (The Matanuska-Susitna Valley, the surrounding region"the most densely populated region of the state, and roughly the size of West Virginia"is mentioned in passing.)
Samuels also quotes from an article in the local Wasilla paper that police chief Charlie Fallon didn't want to pass the burden along to taxpayers. That is an undeniably boneheaded and offensive statement. What she leaves out is his statement that he was TRYING to bill INSURANCE COMPANIES, not victims. "In the past we've charged the cost of exams to the victims insurance company when possible," is what he said. The story is old and incomplete. It doesn't say what Fallon would do if the insurance company rejected the claim. But the current mayor of Wasilla says there is no record of a victim being charged for a rape kit.
Lastly, Samuels claims that the Palin campaign has not addressed the issue and has released a statement saying only that "Prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault is a priority for Gov. Palin." However, Palin addressed this matter two weeks ago: "Palin spokeswoman Maria Comella told USA Today in an e-mail that the governor ‘does not believe, nor has she ever believed, that rape victims should have to pay for an evidence-gathering test.' "
I did make a small error of my own in my first post about this matter. I wrote that a quote from a Democratic legislator in Alaska that Palin likely didn't know about the policy brought me little comfort. I misread his quote. In fact, that legislator, Eric Croft, said he believed that Palin DID know what was going on, and he's helped smear Palin by saying that the legislation came about because of Wasilla.
I think we can all agree that victims should not have to pay for their rape kits. And billing insurance companies is a far from ideal solution. Reimbursing a victim with state money after she's already had to pay out of pocket is even worse. But it's a problem that's hardly been exclusive to Wasilla or Alaska. Fortunately, states have been quick to pass laws against such practices once word gets out.
But the fact remains that this is a nasty and untrue rumor about Sarah Palin that's been circulating for weeks. If you're an Obama supporter who gets frustrated that people still believe he's Muslim or won't put his hand on his heart for the Pledge of Allegiance, you should understand the frustration that Palin supporters feel when this slime is taken at face value.
As far as I can tell, they did -- but Wasilla wasn't an outlier, as earlier stories have held. Sounds like it was a widespread bad law and that the new law to correct it wasn't directed at Wasilla specifically, but more generally than that.
(There is a distinction made between billing victims and billing the victims' insurance companies, too -- I'm not sure if that's a huge distinction. [What if the victim didn't have insurance?])
Fact: Sarah Palin fired Ira Stambaugh as Wasilla's police chief and hired Charlie Fallon.
No one disputes this, and the judge actually sided with Palin that she was well within her rights as mayor to fire and hire police chiefs.
Fact: Neither Palin's predecessor, John Stein, nor Fallon's predecessor, Irl Stambaugh, charged victims or their insurance companies for rape kits. It was only after Palin took office and installed Charlie Fallon as police chief that the $15,000 line item in the budget to pay for forensic rape examinations disappeared. Palin's spokespeople insist she had no knowledge, but budget documents reflect that she signed off on the recission.
Fact: In 2000, the Alaska legislature passed a bill requiring that neither a victim nor their insurance company be charged for performing forensic rape examinations, as Wasilla was doing. At the time, when called for comment, Fallon said, "In the past we've charged the cost of exams to the victims insurance company when possible. I just don't want to see any more burden put on the taxpayer." He also added, "The forensic exam is just one part of the equation. I'd like to see the courts make these people pay restitution for these things."
So, let's call a spade a spade. The Palin Administration in Wasilla definitely removed an item from the budget that the previous administration used to pay for forensic rape examinations, which are done at hospitals with medical personnel. Fallon defended Wasilla's policy. Period.
The Palin Administration in Wasilla definitely removed an item from the budget that the previous administration used to pay for forensic rape examinations, which are done at hospitals with medical personnel. Fallon defended Wasilla's policy. Period.
Palin On Rape Kit Accusations: ‘The Entire Notion Of Making A Victim Of A Crime Pay For Anything Is Crazy’
The Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman " the hometown newspaper of Sarah Palin " reports that the Governor has replied to a list of 14 submitted questions. Among the queries was a question about the fact that, while she was mayor of Wasilla, her administration’s policy was to “bill victims” for their rape kits:
Q: During your tenure as mayor in 2000, then police chief Charlie Fannon commented in a May 23, 2000 Frontiersman article about legislation Gov. Tony Knowles signed protecting victims of sexual assault from being billed for rape kits collected by police as part of their investigations. Fannon revealed then that Knowles’ decision would cost Wasilla $5,000 to $14,000 a year, insinuating that the department’s policy was to bill victims for this testing. During your tenure as Mayor, what was the police department and city’s standard operating procedure in recovering costs of rape kits? Were any sexual assault victims ever charged for this testing while you were mayor?
A: The entire notion of making a victim of a crime pay for anything is crazy. I do not believe, nor have I ever believed, that rape victims should have to pay for an evidence-gathering test. As governor, I worked in a variety of ways to tackle the problem of sexual assault and rape, including making domestic violence a priority of my administration.
It is indeed “crazy,” yet charging sexual assault victims for their rape kits (which cost $300 to $1,200 at the time) is exactly what happened while she was mayor of Wasilla. In a budget-cutting move, Palin’s administration began charging rape victims for exams and the kits containing the medical supplies. (Her signature is on the budget.) USA Today reported:
It is not known how many rape victims in Wasilla were required to pay for some or all of the medical exams, but a legislative staffer who worked on the bill for [state legislator Eric] Croft said it happened. “It was more than a couple of cases, and it was standard practice in Wasilla,” Peggy Wilcox said, who now works for the Alaska Public Employees Association. “If you were raped in Wasilla, this was going to happen to you.”
The practice of charging rape victims got the attention of state lawmakers in 2000, who passed a bill to stop the practice.
In her short tenure as Governor, Palin has come under criticism for presiding over a state where rape is “epidemic.” A March study by a state task force found that level of funding only covered the cost of helping women and children hurt by the epidemic of sexual violence. It was not enough to try to prevent assaults from happening or to ensure “accountability of offenders.”
Peggy Brown, executive director of the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, said of Palin: “She’s really done a lot of work on oil and gas, but when it comes to violence against women and children…we haven’t been on her radar as a priority.” (HT: E&P)
UpdateSlate writes that the intent of Palin’s police chief was to try to “bill insurance companies, not victims.”
UpdateThe Palin administration says it fired public safety director Walt Monegan because he went “to Washington, D.C., to seek funding for a new, multimillion-dollar sexual assault initiative the governor hadn't yet approved.”