A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Palin Charging Victims for Rape Kits?


Q: Did Sarah Palin make rape victims pay for their own rape kits?

A: Palin's police chief in Wasilla did that. Whether Palin supported this is not certain.

FULL ANSWER

We've seen countless Internet and e-mail claims that Sarah Palin forced women to pay for their own forensic testing when reporting a rape. Unlike some claims about Palin, this one has some merit, though Palin's precise role is unclear. Here's the story: 

In 2000, complaints about this practice in rural cities including Wasilla prompted the Alaska Legislature to pass a bill preventing alleged victims of sexual assault from being billed for forensic tests. It was signed into law by then-Gov. Tony Knowles. Palin had been the mayor of Wasilla for four years at the time, and a local paper reported that the Wasilla police chief, Charlie Fannon, defended the practice, saying he had billed women and their insurance companies for these tests rather than placing a "burden" on taxpayers:

Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman (May 23, 2000): "In the past we've charged the cost of exams to the victim's 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.

Palin wasn't quoted in any news coverage at the time. More recently, after she was picked to be Sen. John McCain's vice presidential running mate, her spokeswoman Maria Comella told USA Today that the governor "does not believe, nor has she ever believed, that rape victims should have to pay for an evidence-gathering test." Comella declined to answer questions about when Palin found out about the practice and what, if anything, she tried to do about it. Fannon, who is no longer the chief of police, has not spoken to the press either.

Eric Croft, a former Alaska state representative who sponsored the 2000 legislation, told CNN that "I find it hard to believe that for six months a small town, a police chief, would lead the fight against a statewide piece of legislation receiving unanimous support and the mayor not know about it." But Croft, a Democrat, says he does not recall discussing the issue with Palin at the time.

— Jess Henig

Sources

Dilanian, Ken and Matt Kelly. "Palin's town used to bill victims for rape kits." USA Today, 11 Sept. 2008.

Goode, Jo C. "Knowles signs sexual assault bill." Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, 23 May 2000.

Yellin, Jessica. "Palin's town charged women for rape exams." CNN.com, 22 Sept. 2008.