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.