Sarah Palin and the victims-pay-for-rape-kits story

One way in which Wasilla, Alaska, is not unique.

Published September 10, 2008 4:15PM (EDT)

For those of you who have been wondering just what the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, does all day, other than ponder the geostrategic challenge of integrating U.S. policy in the Middle East/South Asia "arc of crisis," here (as many blogs have reported) is one possible answer: permit the municipality to charge rape victims for their own forensic medical exams. (The reported cost: between $300 and $1,200.)

According to a May 22, 2000, article in the Wasilla Frontiersman, when then Gov. Tony Knowles signed legislation "protecting victims of sexual assault from being billed" for those tests ("rape kits" of evidence collected in hospitals for law enforcement use), "one local police chief" objected, saying that the new law would "further burden taxpayers." Taxpayers who, as it turns out, were saving up for a sales tax increase that would pay for a hockey rink. (Not that there's anything wrong with that. Just with this: The extra $1.3 million in legal costs -- a "financial mess that continues to plague Wasilla.")

That police chief was Charlie Fannon -- a Sarah Palin appointee -- who argued that the law would cost the Wasilla Police Department $5,000 to $14,000 a year. (Depending on the actual cost of the kit, that math may be disturbing in and of itself.) "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," Fannon said, noting that he intended to include the cost of the exams in a restitution request as a part of a criminal's sentencing.

How much did then Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin actually have to do with this? Who knows. Chances are we'll never find that memo. (And, benefit of the doubt, given that she'd want those victims to continue with any resulting pregnancy, you'd think she'd want them to start saving now.) But still: It doesn't look good. As Bitch Ph.D. notes: "One can only assume that she supported Wasilla's policy of billing rape victims for their own rape kits ... not only because Fannon was her appointee, but also because this was four years into her tenure as mayor and because, let's be honest: in a town of that size, the mayor doesn't get to plead ignorance of policies or public statements of her own chief of police."

Though the policy sounds outrageous -- and Palin should be made to answer for it -- Wasilla's women are not the only ones who have heard, "You can press charges. Will that be cash or credit?" (Or: "... but you'll have to get Blue Cross to reimburse.") As Broadsheet noted in May, a new provision in the 2005 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (why, hello, Sen. Biden!) requires that states -- in order to keep receiving VAWA-related funding for other services -- must (as of January 2009) find the money for those rape kits ... anywhere but the victims' pockets. (The provision does not require the kits to be anonymous, as was widely reported -- just that they be free for victims.) For that provision to have come up in the first place, obviously, means that the problem was hardly confined to the Fannon/Palin axis; the DOJ's Office on Violence Against Women confirmed that with Broadsheet this morning. (Also see this post at Op-Edna.)

What the DOJ can also tell us: More than one in three American Indian and Alaska Native women will be raped in their lifetimes.

For more on the so-called balancing act between patience with the victim and prosecution of the perp, read this detailed piece at

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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Broadsheet Love And Sex Sarah Palin Violence Against Women