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The Sarah Palin Rape Kit Controversy

Updated on October 9, 2008

Did Sarah Palin really make rape victims in Wasilla, Alaska pay for their own rape kits during her term as mayor?

The evidence is inconclusive, but points to yes.

The Background

Alaska has the highest rate of rapes in the nation. Rates are particularly high among the indigenous population. In Anchorage, Native Alaskans are more than 9.7 times more likely than other races to be sexually assaulted. Forensic rape kits are used to collect evidence after a reported or suspected rape. They cost anywhere from $300 up to $1200.

When Sarah Palin was elected mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, the budget requested by then-Chief of Police Irl Stambaugh included funds to pay for rape kits. In 1997, however, Palin fired Stambaugh, stating that "...I do not feel I have your full support in my efforts to govern the city of Wasilla." In his place, she hired a man named Charlie Fannon.

Three years later, rumors in Alaska began to spread that some municipalities were charging women for their own rape kits, the moral equivalent of forcing a murder victim's family to pay for the investigation. When Eric Croft, a Democratic Alaskan Legislator, learned of the claims, he drafted HB 270, which made it illegal for law enforcement agencies to bill victims or victims' insurance policies for examinations used to collect evidence of sexual assault.

HB 270 was passed by the legislature and signed into law by then-Governor Tony Knowles in 2000.

Wasilla was not the only town believed to follow the practice (one of the few examples on public record occurred in Juneau), nor is it isolated to Alaska. However, Wasilla Chief of Police Charlie Fannon was one of the most vocal opponents of the bill.

"In the past we've charged the cost of exams to the victim's insurance company when possible. I just don't 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. "Ultimately it is the criminal who should bear the burden of the added costs," Fannon said. (Source)

Were any rape victims actually charged?

Rape statistics are vague for the city of Wasilla, lumped together under the heading of "Sexual Assaults (including all associated sex crimes)." Between 1997 and 1999, 38 "Sexual Assaults" are listed on the City of Wasilla's website.

Uniform Crime Reports of Wasilla lists one reported rape in 2000 (compared to 10 "Sexual Assaults" on the city's website), but prior to 2000 shows data only for one year in every five. In 1995, the year before Palin took office, there were no rapes reported.

Wasilla Mayor Dianne M. Keller, in an official letter available on the City of Wasilla's website, stated that "The Finance Department searched all financial records on our system for fiscal year 2000, 2001 and 2002. There are no records of billings to or collections from rape victims or their insurance companies in our system."

However, HB 270 was passed in 2000, so it would have been illegal if Wasilla had billed rape victims between 2000 and 2002.

Additionally, it is unlikely that the town of Wasilla would have records of billing victims in the first place. Rape exams are performed by hospitals and, typically, the hospital then bills the police or other local agency. In the case of Wasilla, the police did not start billing the victims, they stopped paying the hospital, forcing the hospital to seek compensation through the victim's insurance company. If the victim lacked insurance, the charges would then have been passed on to her.

Dr. Colleen Murphy, a former member of the Alaska Violent Crimes Compensation Board, in the video shared above, claims of the period between 1997 and 1999 that "There is no question. I was there. I saw claims coming to our board. Sexual assault victims were appealing to our committee to have their forensic exams paid for by the Violent Crimes Compensation Board."

USA Today also reported the words of Peggy Wilcox, a legislative staffer who worked on HB 270 with Croft: "It was more than a couple of cases, and it was standard practice in Wasilla. [...] If you were raped in Wasilla, this was going to happen to you."

The Mat-su Valley (including Wasilla) Frontiersman, in a May 23, 2000 article written around the time of HB 270's passing, seems to corroborate Murphy and Wilcox's statements that rape victims were charged. The Frontiersman states: "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."

Fannon's own admission that "In the past we've charged the cost of exams to the victim's insurance company when possible" would also appear to suggest that rape victims (or their insurance companies) were in fact charged.

Was Sarah Palin Aware of Fannon's Policy?

Sarah Palin's spokeswoman Maria Comella recently stated that Palin "does not believe, nor has she ever believed, that rape victims should have to pay for an evidence-gathering test," and recent investigations, such as one by CNN's Jessica Yellin, have found no direct evidence that Palin knew of Fannon's policy of billing rape victims.

However, the size (or lack thereof) of Wasilla makes it difficult to believe that Palin was completely unaware of what was going on. Croft has stated that, "I find it hard to believe that for six months a small town, a police chief, would lead the fight against a statewide piece of legislation receiving unanimous support and the mayor not know about it."

More significantly, Palin did personally sign a budget for the 2000 fiscal year that cut the funding provided for rape kits under Stambaugh. The budget also contained numerous other cuts to Wasilla public services.

Essentially, because her signature was on the budget, Palin either agreed to the funding cuts that would shift costs to the victims, or she signed off on a document she didn't bother to read. Either case is troubling.

Comments

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    • Woodmckinney profile image

      Amanda 

      5 years ago from Maryland

      I can not even express me feelings here, I was about to publish a hub ( a series) about my history of rape. After just reading this, I am furious. I don't know if I should delve into all of that if THIS is all it takes to make me angry!

    • profile image

      Edward Steven Nunes 

      6 years ago

      Processing DNA from inside a woman’s body should not cost more than DNA from a paternity test and victims should not have to pay for that. Processing DNA that is on the victim’s skin can require more testing and sometimes infrared imaging can reduce the amount work to find the evidence. Infrared evidence is a result of the heat produced by increased blood flow in damaged tissue.

      Edward Steven Nunes

      The Abused Men's Area

    • AngelaKaelin profile image

      AngelaKaelin 

      7 years ago from New York

      I didn't realize these kits cost so much. This is probably another reason why police departments everywhere are reluctant to take reports on rape. It might cost money.

    • TravelinAsia profile image

      TravelinAsia 

      7 years ago from Thailand/Southeast Asia

      She will be your next predident! I am so glad I am Canadian. I just hope she doesn't decide to invade!

    • profile image

      Miranda Kalish 

      8 years ago

      don't get me started on Sarah Palin. haha. this was a very good hub. I had no idea this kind of thing was even going on. even if it's not completely proven, i believe it. Sarah palin is all nice and cuddly and stupid on the outside, but she can be painfully harmful. People need to stop underestimating her. we need to expect her to make mistake after mistake and poor decision after poor decision. she doesn't know what she's doing.

      ok ill stop. this was very interesting. thanks for writing.

    • kerryg profile imageAUTHOR

      kerryg 

      9 years ago from USA

      clarity, thanks for your comment!

      Personally, I'm inclined to suspect that she cut the funding in a misguided attempt to save the taxpayers some money, since she was en route to leaving Wasilla millions of dollars in debt. (After starting her term debt-free.) However, rape kits typically include emergency contraception, which many people (especially in the anti-abortion crowd) confuse with RU486, and I would not be surprised at all if she decided to cut that particular funding because she didn't want to "fund abortion." It's pretty clear she's not intellectually curious enough to bother learning the truth about EC, which actually prevents pregnancy, rather than ending it, and therefore REDUCES the number of abortions.

    • kerryg profile imageAUTHOR

      kerryg 

      9 years ago from USA

      marisuewrites, thanks for your comment! Staying objective was hard for me, as this is an issue where I start seeing red very easily, but I don't think it's fair to treat Palin as the only person in the country who supports this - it's clear from my research that it's far more common than I would have expected to make women pay for their own rape kits. However, I do consider it pretty damning that she personally signed the budget that cut the funds previously allocated for the matter.

    • clarity profile image

      clarity 

      9 years ago from Roslindale, MA

      I wouldn't be surprised if this story happen to be facts. She probably did many things under cover that the public do not know about. Remember she wasn't really known to the public until a few months ago. The fact that I am hearing that she abused her power while in office could be a legitimate reason to believed she probably had rape victims pay for their own kits. Also, may I remind people that Gov. Palin opposed abortion for women who are victims of rape. That's harsh! I don't want to step on anyone toes on the issue of abortions, but when it comes to a rape victims it is harsh to tell these women they to have to keep their babies.

    • marisuewrites profile image

      marisuewrites 

      9 years ago from USA

      She is amazing and not guilty of any of this, nor of the other dozens of shocking things about her...she's the most innocent person on the planet, just ask her and those who blindly support her....she says God and all her bad things go away...

      I wish I had her hotline to heaven.... LOL =)) good info here....good research and you did try to remain objective. which is more than I can do anymore.

    • kerryg profile imageAUTHOR

      kerryg 

      9 years ago from USA

      Chef Jeff, I agree that the issue becomes less significant in light of the fact that it was hardly unique to Wasilla. However, both Obama (at the state level) and Biden (at the national level) have sponsored bills designed to end the practice, andI find it fairly disgusting that any woman could be less sensitive to the often devastating physical and emotional effects of rape than two men, no matter how progressive, especially considering the relatively low cost of the kits to taxpayers and the fact that her ADDITIONS to Wasilla's budget included things like a personal SUV for the mayor.

    • kerryg profile imageAUTHOR

      kerryg 

      9 years ago from USA

      hot dorkage, thanks. I tried! I must say, the overwhelming impression I came away with after reading dozens of articles and documents relating to the issue was that she knew exactly what she was doing when she signed that budget and just didn't care. But she's good at covering her tracks.

    • Chef Jeff profile image

      Chef Jeff 

      9 years ago from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago.

      She's just not VP material, on many levels. If rape victims were charged the cost, it was a deplorable practice not confined to Alaska or to Palin's terms in office as mayor and governor. It's a non-issue right now to me, until it can either be proved or disproved.

      I would like to say that if she changed that old law, then I am happy she did something right. However, knowing her record of cutting costs on services, I doubt this one would have somehow missed the swing of the axe.

    • hot dorkage profile image

      hot dorkage 

      9 years ago from Oregon, USA

      Thank you for being objective about this. But guess what I don't need another reason to dislike Sarah Palin anyway. :) Nice work.

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