By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Sending the bill to rape victims

The man Sarah Palin appointed to run the Wasilla police department thinks that forcing rape victims to pay for their own forensic tests is just a swell idea. He said so himself a little more than eight years ago.

Anchorage Daily News reporter George Bryson writes that former Alaska governor Tony Knowles, a Democrat who took part in a news conference yesterday, charged that a law passed by the state legislature to outlaw that loathsome practice was aimed solely at Wasilla, where Palin was mayor at the time.

“There was one town in Alaska that was charging victims for this, and that was Wasilla,” Knowles is quoted as saying. Bryson continues:

A May 23, 2000, article in Wasilla’s newspaper, The Frontiersman, noted that Alaska State Troopers and most municipal police agencies regularly pay for such exams, which cost between $300 and $1,200 apiece.

“[But] the Wasilla police department does charge the victims of sexual assault for the tests,” the newspaper reported.

It also quoted Wasilla Police Chief Charlie Fannon objecting to the law. Fannon was appointed to his position by Palin after her dismissal of the previous police chief. He said it would cost Wasilla $5,000 to $14,000 a year if the city had to foot the bill for rape exams.

This should be appalling to any decent-thinking person, needless to say. But working-class women who supported Hillary Clinton — one of the prime demographics the Palin pick is aimed at attracting — really ought to take a close look at their new hero’s record.

And please note that Knowles’ accusation, though it is a partisan attack, is backed up by facts reported by Palin’s hometown newspaper at the time this outrage was unfolding. There is no excusing or explaining away such reprehensible conduct.

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  1. mike_b1

    Geez, Dan, everyone knows rape victims had it coming. That’s why they should be denied abortions.(signed)Mrs. Palin

  2. zadig

    It is patently unfair and a smear of the worst proportions to attack poor, martyred Sarah Palin with, of all things, her record as a politician. You insensitive clod.

  3. Esther

    I think it’s telling that her first big photo spread and interview was in People magazine. We live in a celebrity obsessed culture. Sadly, I don’t think most people want to hear the details. We just want to hear about her husband the snowmobile champion or her kids or her hocky mom status – or whatever. Anything but the issues.

  4. Aaron Read

    Whoa…if the rape kits cost between $300 and $1200 each, and the cost to Wasilla would be $5000 to $14000 a year, then presumably there must be somewhere between 5 and 46 rapes in Wasilla each year.This in a town with a population of fewer than 5,500 (2000 US Census). According to Wikipedia, about half that number are women, and I’ll assume that nearly 100% of the rape kits in question are in regards to women raped by men (as opposed to men raped by men)…so that means the rape rate could be so high that roughly 1 in every 62 women will be raped in Wasilla each year.Contrast this to all of Alaska, where the reported rape rate is 85.1 per 100,000 persons…or 1 in 1175.I suppose context is important here and I don’t really have any. And that 1 in 62 number is a worse-case scenario. Even so, it doesn’t say anything positive about Palin’s abilities to manage the safety of her citizens in Wasilla.

  5. Steve

    esther: “Anything but the issues”I realize you are speaking facetiously, but you have accurately portrayed McCain’s campaign strategy. McCain’s campaign manager Rick Davis puts it very bluntly: “This election is not about issues.”If you are McCain’s campaign manager, there’s a very good reason for it – if the election is about issues, McCain loses big time. So they have to make it about anything BUT the issues. “Chase the shiny object!” The press obeys, and the American people are left blissfully ignorant. You’re doing a heck of a job, press corps!

  6. Leslie

    aaron read: I lived in AK for 3 + years in the late 90’s. I learned there are problems that your numbers maybe don’t reflect: Booze. Poverty. Cabin Fever in the long, cold, dark winter. Booze + Poverty + Cabin Fever = Violence, sexual and otherwise including, sadly, incest.My concern is that people don’t report rapes because it would simply cost too much to do so.Leslie

  7. Peter Porcupine

    DK – sigh.I DO NOT KNOW why this was proposed, but I cannot help wondering. A few years ago, my town voted to begin charging for ambulance rides to the hospital. You’d have thought we were lining up seniors on Rt. 6A and shooting them in the head, based on the response. In reality, we established the charge in order to allow the town to bill insurance carriers for those who have coverage. People with no coverage continue to get free rides, and nobody was ever turned away.Could this have been similar? Allowing the town to bill insurance carriers for the procedure where there was emergency room coverage? Was anybody ever REFUSED a test based on inability to pay? Was anybody uninsured ever balance billed?There may be a simple explaination for this ‘reprehnsible’ conduct, amid the media chorus of “Details! Always details!”

  8. Jordan

    And why should the victim’s health insurance pay for a rape kit? Should they pay for the trial, too?

  9. Don, American

    Ah, the new journalism. Find all the possible scandal you can, especially in election season. Don’t be biased, though.

  10. Dan Kennedy

    PP: I think in this case, stunned silence on your part would be a more appropriate response.Keep in mind that the Alaska legislature had to pass a law to stop the one town in the entire state that was doing this: Wasilla — at the behest of Sarah Palin’s hand-picked police chief.

  11. Nial Liszt

    Seem to anybody else that we are watching an old b&w Superman program where the bullets are bouncing off of him and when the two mooks run out of ammo they throw their guns at him?

  12. Mike F

    The “roll-out” of Sarah Palin reminds me of the practice that movie studios use for movies that they know are bombs. Every story on Sarah Palin should say, ‘this candidate was not made available to critics’ at the end. Also, her heroic opposition to the “bridge to nowhere” reminds me of the movie studios’ practice of selectively pulling a quote from a negative review and editing it down to make it seem like the critic actually praised the movie.To grind the metaphor machine into the ground, the false portrayal of Palin is the front page, while the truth about her record is a tiny retraction buried on page B14.Guess which one most people will see?

  13. mike_b1

    She is nuts: it was only a matter of time. As has been said over and again, Old Man McCain is a warmonger who believes the Cold War continues. And Palin, while younger and presumably in command of all her brain cells, just proved she’s equally dense.As Fareed Zakaria so clearly explained (, Russia had backed itself into a corner by invading Georgia: “Russia has scared its neighboring states witless, driving them firmly into the arms of the West. For almost two years, Poland had been dragging its feet on the American proposal to deploy missile interceptors in that country as part of a continent wide shield (a few months ago public support for the shield varied between 15 and 25 percent). Within days of the Russian attack, Warsaw agreed to the deployment. Ukraine had long been divided on whether to have closer ties to the West. A few years ago, 60 percent of the country wanted some kind of federation with Russia instead. Now the Kiev government has unhesitatingly asked for a path to NATO membership.”Vladimir Putin has done more for transatlantic unity than a President Barack Obama ever could. The United States and Europe are now in greater strategic agreement than at any point in the last two decades. Even the autocracies in the Caucasus have reacted negatively to the attack, refusing to endorse Russia’s actions and legitimize the new facts on the ground. China has refused its support. And what did Russia get for all this? Seventy thousand South Ossetians.”But Old Man McCain wants to throw them out of NATO — which won’t happen, and by saying so all he does is alienate everyone” — which, as Zakaria notes, would have left the US with two options: “appeasement or war.”Hey PP, hope your kids aren’t soldiers. I’d hate for you to miss all the fun here because you’re too busy burying them.

  14. MeTheSheeple

    The original story Dan referred to.The at-the-time governor’s comments on the bill, with quote marks lost on the Web site: We would never bill the victim of a burglary for fingerprinting and photographing the crime scene, or for the cost of gathering other evidence, Knowles said. Nor should we bill rape victims just because the crime scene happens to be their bodies.

  15. An Astute Observer

    It must be election time!Dan Kennedy turns into Keith Olbermann!The normally balanced media writer throw everything out the window and starts railing on anything conservative.Jeesh

  16. mike_b1

    not so astute: Don’t be absurd. It’s Dan’s blog. He’s never made an attempts to conceal his persuasion. And it’s OK to have opinions, even if that opinion includes going to war with Russia — essentially ensuring WW3 — over a contested Georgia state, as Gov. Palin would have us do. But never fear: I’m sure God told her to do it.

  17. An Astute Observer

    Of course it’s his blog. If he was just an average Joe…then for sure, go ahead.But he makes himself out to be a media writer. (Not a cheerleader).Gee? How many bloody stories have we seen on boring old Joe Biden?

  18. Doug Shugarts

    Another question to ask is, “which Alaskans are least able to pay hundreds of dollars apiece for medical tests?”The answer, according to a 2007 Amnesty International report, is Native Alaskans, the same group which is over 9 times more likely to suffer sexual assault than other groups. Alaska, by the way, leads the U.S. in overall incidents of sexual assault, according to FBI crime stats.And according to a follow-up 2008 report (pdf) from Amnesty International, many Native Alaskan women are unable to reach a clinic for testing:“In Alaska, victims continue to face serious obstacles including lack of funding for transportation to locations where forensic examinations may be performed. A report by the University of Alaska found that in rural Alaska, rape kits were gathered in only 26% of all cases, and 38% of cases reported within 72 hours.”With huge sums of oil money flowing into her state, why has Palin failed to protect native Alaskan women who suffer sexual assault? Doug Shugarts

  19. Dan Kennedy

    Not So Astute: I am a liberal media critic and political writer, and have been since 1994. I always love the strawman “You purport to be …” line of attack. No I don’t. I yam what I yam.

  20. Dot Lane

    “The normally balanced media writer throw everything out the window and starts railing on anything conservative.”Ah, so you agree that making women pay for rape kits is a conservative position. I sense a true dialogue coming on, until, of course, a woman wants emergency contraception or an abortion after a rape. Then it is right back to square one….

  21. An Astute Observer

    **Ah, so you agree that making women pay for rape kits is a conservative position. **No, I’m not commenting on that….What I’m saying is that Dan has had a TON of articles about Sarah Palin, and things that don’t matter.Starting with repeating the issue that Sarah was lying about the Down’s syndrom boy that she has. Dan repeated the rumor that it was really her daughters baby…and that the Palins were passing it off as their own.Sarah Palin’s gotten itno his head…and he can’t seem to think of anything else.Normally can take a balanced look at media matters…but every 4 years he turns into a liberal Shill.

  22. Dan Kennedy

    Not So Astute: Sorry, but you are way out of bounds. Readers of this blog know I did not report on that rumor until after Andrew Sullivan chose to inject it into the mainstream — a full 24 hours after I had read about it — and I did so only to roast Sullivan.Your deliberate mischaracterization reflects on your credibility.The only difference in my writing during election years is that I write about politics a lot more often. Duh.My editor at the Boston Phoenix, Peter Kadzis, once described my writing as “fair and unbalanced.” I’m very proud of that.

  23. An Astute Observer

    **Readers of this blog know I did not report on that rumor until after Andrew Sullivan chose to inject it into the mainstream***Andrew SUllivan is hardly "mainstream".But the thing about repeating smears….it doesn't matter if it's true or false…the mud sticks…and the smear is made.Just repeating something "that someone else said", doesn't get you off the hook.>> The only difference in my writing during election years is that I write about politics a lot more often.<<No, you just don't write about it…you go into the tank for candidates. **My editor at the Boston Phoenix, Peter Kadzis, once described my writing as "fair and unbalanced." **And we know what a great reputation the "Boston Pheonix" has, don't we?I was glad you broke out of there. I am glad you are on GB…and at you are not sullied by the reputation of the Pheonix and it's owners. I love reading your media analysis.I don't like when you go into cheerleader mode.You don't do justice to your talent.

  24. Chris

    The state of North Carolina does charge victims for kits in an attempt to have the insurance companies pay for them.

  25. tp

    Huffington Post tracks elimination of the budgetary line item that paid for rape kits under the chief of police prior to the Palin administation.That line item was eliminated when Palin came to office, spurring action by the AK legislature.So, the exams were funded before she was in office. Funding was eliminated when she came to office. A mayor knows exactly what is in her first budget. Especially when she fires the preceding department head, chief, and installs a new one.Take what her spokesman said to USA today for what it’s worth. You fill in the rest.

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