Crime and the Politics of Sexual Assault in Alaska

The previous post, ‘Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner–SANE’is intended to explain the forensic rape exam, which is in the news lately because the town of Wasilla, Alaska billed victims for the rape exam until the practice was outlawed by Governor Tony Knowles in May, 2000. This was during Sarah Palin’s tenure as Mayor, which ran from 1996-2002.

The Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, Wasilla’s local newspaper, covered a press conference on the new law and interviewed the Wasilla Police Chief, Charlie Fannon.

First, Governor Knowles…

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.

Next Chief Fannon…

Wasilla Police Chief Charlie Fannon does not agree with the new legislation, saying the law will require the city and communities to come up with more funds to cover the costs of the forensic exams.
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, 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.

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.
Fannon said he intends to include the cost of exams required to collect evidence in a restitution request as a part of a criminals sentencing.

It’s hard to believe that the Chief of Police didn’t know that the vast majority of sexual assault cases do not end in a trial, never mind a conviction. It’s strange that he saw the rape exam as a burden on the taxpayer when his mandate is to fight crime. Losing potential evidence didn’t seem to concern him. The possibility that victims would be discouraged from seeking care because they lack health insurance, or fear being dropped from their insurance or losing their privacy–“the likelihood that rape will go unreported, doesn’t factor in.

And where was the Mayor? It’s one of the Mayor’s responsibilities to work closely with the Chief of Police. In the absence of any record of Mayor Palin publicly rebuking Chief Fannon for his statements it can only be assumed that she endorsed his view.

Why would a female Mayor not support a law that ended an unfair and harmful practice that affected mostly women? Why was she not receptive to victim’s advocate groups? One answer may be contained in the last two sentences of the news report. (As I have been cutting and pasting, I’ve put a link to the entire news story here.)

The new bill would also make law enforcement agencies that are investigating a sexual assault responsible for the costs of testing victims for sexually transmitted diseases and emergency contraception.

The Day One SANE training manual includes nine single-space pages of a Catholic review of the ethics of emergency contraception. The essay concludes that it is permissible for a woman to use emergency contraception after a rape. There are more conservative religions that consider it an act of conscience to fail to offer, or to deny access to protection from an unwanted pregnancy. Women are denied emergency contraception in hospitals and at pharmacies, and laws are proposed to shield practitioners from any responsibility for any harm resulting.

A Mayor who belongs to a very conservative church might not welcome the discomfort of having her name associated with a practice that some call abortion. She might not want to go on record as supporting state funding for the morning after pill, even for victims of rape.

And crime victims are in a place no one wants to be, faced with decisions no one wants to have to make. No simple answers, no powerful lobby, and way too close to the violent misogyny that oppresses women worldwide.

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8 responses

  1. Crime and Politics in Alaska…

    Why would a female Mayor let her Chief of Police bill women for the rape exam? Could it be that her church regards emergency contraception as abortion?…

  2. I just don’t know what scares me more, her politics or the fact that she’s pretty and people will vote for her strictly on the way she looks. There are so many reasons not to vote for her, I can not fathom an informed person wasting their vote on her. I’m doing my part and I see you are doing yours as well as many other bloggers. We can only hope that people will take the time to read…sigh…

  3. “And where was the Mayor? It’s one of the Mayor’s responsibilities to work closely with the Chief of Police. In the absence of any record of Mayor Palin publicly rebuking Chief Fannon for his statements it can only be assumed that she endorsed his view.”

    That’s a stretch Nancy.

  4. really? If the Chief of Police is saying those kinds of things to the press how does the Mayor not notice? In fact, the Mayor is responsible for the budget, and Chief Fannon was claiming this was a budget issue. And it is the Mayor’s job to know what is going on with the police.

  5. Yes, but when was the law enacted? Was it prior to or during Palin’s tenure in office?

    And while the chief might say it is a budget issue, we know from our experience with Fire/Police budget issues, the chief of fire/police do not always agree with the mayor.

    I think you’re trying to draw a conclusion you want because you can’t find a direct quote from Palin on this subject. If you can and she did agree with the chief, well fine, but are you going to assume that the mayor agrees 100% with everything a chief of police/fire says?

    I really do think that’s a stretch.

  6. Don Roach:

    The Wasilla police department started charging for Rape kits after Palin fired the original Police Chief, and replaced him with Fannon. This all occurred during her tenure.

    I suggest you read up on the many people Palin fired, and her management style. She required detailed weekly reports from her department heads, including the chief of police. In fact, in the Troopergate scandal, she claims she fired the state Head of Public safety over budget disagreements.

    But, let’s give her the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say that she was unaware of the change when she signed the budget. She was sure as hell aware of it when it hit the papers. She was aware of it when it became a big enough issue that the Alaska state legislature passed a bill, aimed directly at Wasilla, banning the practice.

    And yet the City of Wasilla refused to stop billing victims for Rape kits until the Gov. of Alaska signed the bill into law.

    That process took a year from the time Wasilla instituted the practice to the bill becoming law. And she did nothing. Nothing. There are no direct quotes because she didn’t say anything. She did nothing, absolutely to change her city’s policy. And don’t give me the “she’s just the mayor, she’s powerless over her employees” bull.

    You want to talk about a stretch, Don? The idea that Palin had no idea what was going on while the whole thing was a state-wide scandal. That’s a freakin’ stretch.

  7. According to the Washington Post, in Wasilla the Mayor oversees the police. When elected Mayor, Sarah Palin fired the Chief of Police, Irl Stambaugh, and hired Charlie Fannon. He was her hand-picked man for the job.
    If her leadership style is to remain silent when her Chief of Police defends such a policy it doesn’t look good.
    She talks feminist, but her actions don’t back it up.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/09/13/AR2008091302596_pf.html

  8. [...] blogger at kmareka.com speculates that the reason Wasilla and Palin charged rape victims for their own rape kits may have been an [...]

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