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

The rape-kit controversy revisited

Embedded video from CNN Video
Among the many myths that have enveloped the Sarah Palin candidacy is the notion that the rape-kit nastiness of a few weeks ago has somehow been debunked. It hasn’t. What we knew then holds up quite well. As I wrote on Sept. 11:

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.

Every word of that is true. Moreover, as mayor, Palin fired the previous police chief in order to put this guy, Charlie Fannon, into office. It strains credulity to believe that she didn’t bother to read her hometown paper, the Frontiersman, the week that Fannon whined about a new state law ordering that the practice be ended, complaining that it could cost Wasilla taxpayers $5,000 to $14,000 a year.

There is no record — none — showing that Palin ever publicly disagreed with Fannon, reprimanded him or said anything whatsoever about this reprehensible policy. Maybe she was too busy reading the Economist.

Fannon also said this: “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.”

Now, we’ve all seen commentary suggesting that because the bills were sent to the insurance company, there was nothing wrong with the practice. But by treating rape as a medical problem rather than a violent crime, Wasilla authorities were sending precisely the wrong message in a state with the nation’s highest sexual-assault rate. Charging a victim’s insurance company is the same as charging the victim.

Neither the victims of non-sexual assaults nor the families of murder victims are forced to deal with their insurance companies for the cost of police investigations. By singling out rape, Fannon was wallowing in ugly old stereotypes.

We know a little bit more than we did a few weeks ago. We know that Wasilla wasn’t the only community engaging in this practice, although there is still testimony that it was among the most egregious offenders. We still don’t know for certain whether Palin knew, but I (dislocating my shoulders in order to give myself a pat on the back) have been careful about that from the beginning.

Rachael Larimore of Slate has supposedly debunked this story in two parts (here and here), as has Jim Geraghty of National Review. Go ahead and read them. They haven’t. Incredibly, Fannon doesn’t even make an appearance in Geraghty’s piece. Larimore trots him out briefly, for the sole purpose of invoking the insurance rationale.

The best summation of what we know and what we don’t know was reported by CNN on Sept. 22. Read it, watch it. And then try to claim there’s nothing to this controversy.

Instant update: Eric Boehlert weighs in on the rape-kit story in quite a bit more detail.

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  1. Doug Shugarts

    DK — If it’s not too ‘presumptive’ of me, I’ll link to one of my comments from last month in which I quote an Amnesty International report on incidence of rape in Alaska.Palin’s silence is particularly disturbing because rape in Alaska occurs at such a high rate among a minority population in the state (native Alaskans).

  2. Ani

    Instead of focusing on whether Palin knew, we could make the point that Palin as mayor should have known and should have spoken out about it in some way, shape, or form.

  3. Tony

    From what a lot of people have been saying it is standard practice to charge an insurance company for a rape kit. In fact, I heard that the entire state of Illinois forces both insurance companies and women who don’t have insurance to pay for the rape kits too. Question: Should criticism be thrown at Barack Obama about this issue since he is from that state, was a state senator there for eight years while women were getting charged for rape kits, and is now a U.S. Senator representing Illinois? Do we really want to get into Obama’s non-votes on a whole slew of issues relevant to women when he was in the state senate, strategically brought up by Hillary Clinton in the primaries? This rape kit story is such a non-issue in the scheme of things it isn’t even funny.

  4. An Astute Observer

    **Question: Should criticism be thrown at Barack Obama about this issue since he is from that state, was a state senator there for eight years while women were getting charged for rape kits, and is now a U.S. Senator representing Illinois?**Of course not Tony!This is Media Nation! Where we only talk about Republicans like that. Dan says he is what he is and makes no bones about his bias journalism! Next thing you’ll be telling me that Obama had a tanning bed installed…and spreading the rumor that Obama’s youngest daughter is not his own!

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