Debunking The Sarah Palin Rape Kit "Debunkers"

Illustration for article titled Debunking The Sarah Palin Rape Kit "Debunkers"

Spawned by a bunch of Republiblog chatter last week "debunking" the "theory" that Wasilla forced victims to pay for rape kits, the National Review's Jim Garaghty takes up his white armor and rushes to Sarah Palin's defense despite — as Feministing's Samhita points out — the basic facts are, well, facts. I.e., true! But who needs facts? I know I do.Fact: Sarah Palin fired Ira Stambaugh as Wasilla's police chief and hired Charlie Fallon. No one disputes this, and the judge actually sided with Palin that she was well within her rights as mayor to fire and hire police chiefs. Fact: Neither Palin's predecessor, John Stein, nor Fallon's predecessor, Irl Stambaugh, charged victims or their insurance companies for rape kits. It was only after Palin took office and installed Charlie Fallon as police chief that the $15,000 line item in the budget to pay for forensic rape examinations disappeared. Palin's spokespeople insist she had no knowledge, but budget documents reflect that she signed off on the recission. Fact: In 2000, the Alaska legislature passed a bill requiring that neither a victim nor their insurance company be charged for performing forensic rape examinations, as Wasilla was doing. At the time, when called for comment, Fallon said, "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." He also added, "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." So, let's call a spade a spade. The Palin Administration in Wasilla definitely removed an item from the budget that the previous administration used to pay for forensic rape examinations, which are done at hospitals with medical personnel. Fallon defended Wasilla's policy. Period. Does it mean that Palin hates rape victims, blames them for their assaults, etc.? No. Like many a Republican before her, she was shifting the cost of a government service off her books and onto others (in this case, she planned on health insurance providers and Medicaid picking up Wasilla's slack). That it was done with little reflection on the potential ramifications to health insurance companies or the hospitals, the possibility of having one's insurance revoked for utilizing it for an expensive emergency room visit or the 15% of Americans (including Alaskans) who lack health insurance, among other things, makes it bad policy — but it doesn't make her a bad person. An uninsightful one with an inability to consider the potential unintended consequences of her actions, perhaps, but not a rape-promoter. But, of course, it's that meme that got the Republicans all a-flutter, and gave them the opening to launch their (poorly armed) counter-offensive. Jim Geraghty's first line says it all:

Liberal bloggers have cited the story of Wasilla charging victims for rape kits as evidence that as mayor, Sarah Palin backed cruel and insensitive policies.

But let's debunk his points anyway. Jim Geraghty says: "Wasilla was not mentioned in any of the hearings [held in 2000 before passing the bill]." Fair enough, it probably wasn't. The bill's sponsor, former Representative Eric Croft, recalls that he was asked to sponsor the legislation to shame several small municipalities into paying for rape kits, a recollection backed up by forensic nurse Tara Henry, who added that Fallon was alone in his shameless defense of billing the procedures to victims' insurance companies. In other words, like much state legislation, the bill was introduced for the purpose of highlighting the problem and forcing police departments not to be assholes, and Fallon alone stood up in defense of assholery. That they didn't shame him by name — though, given the Frontiersman article, he seems to have had little shame about it — is not proof that it didn't happen in Wasilla or that Sarah Palin's Administration wasn't the impetus for doing so. Obviously. Jim Geraghty says: "The deputy commissioner of Alaska's Department of Public Safety told the State Affairs Committee that he has never found a police agency that has billed a victim." Um, well, it's because they wouldn't have billed victims anyway, they simply stopped paying the hospitals and the hospitals billed the victims. Oh, look! Fallon never hand-delivered a bill to a rape victim! He must be innocent! Bush has never tortured a Guantanamo detainee, either, but it doesn't mean that his actions as President haven't directly led to people being tortured. In fact, Geraghty even admits that the hospitals would've done the billing directly, but neglects to note that every person who has insurance coverage has a co-pay (which means that every person billed by the hospital for a forensic rape examination had an out-of-pocket expense) and 15% of the country doesn't have health insurance. It's ludicrous to suggest that somehow in a market economy no one paid for these exams — and, from Wasilla's own budgets, we sure as hell know Wasilla didn't pay for them. Jim Geraghty says: (quoting Trisha Gentile, executive director of the Council on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault) that the hospitals "have chosen to separate some of the costs of sexual-assault exams. Hospitals are adding sexually-transmitted-disease (STD) and blood tests to the cost of sexual-assault exams, and the hospital makes a choice to bill the victim for those charges." Well, now, here's where I'm going to disagree with Trisha and Jim at the same time. Watch: it's easy! When I had my rape kit performed, in fact, they did take blood to perform tests for STDs and check for the presence of alcohol and date rape drugs. That's actually part of the evidence. Because if I get an STD from a perpetrator (something you can't learn until well after your rape kit, since your body would just be in the process of getting infected after an assault) who knew he had one, then the rapist can be charged with an additional crime — so checking for current STDs provides a baseline for the police to know that information. The forensic nurse also collected blood and urine to check my BAC and for the presence of any drugs, date-rape or otherwise, in my system as part of the forensic examination. Believe me, it wasn't a fun little helpful extra thing the hospital saw fit to provide. The one thing I was offered of medical value at the hospital that performed my forensic rape examination that had nothing to do with the police investigation, though? The morning after pill. And we all know how Sarah Palin feels about rape and abortion. But even in 2000, the morning after pill (aka, Plan B) didn't cost $300 - $1,200. My records from the summer of 2000 (when I had to use it following a condom break) was that it cost me and my insurance company less than $50. Basically, Jim Geraghty doesn't have a leg to stand on in his "refutations" of our "liberal blogger" arguments that the city of Wasilla, while Sarah Palin was mayor, stopped paying for forensic rape examinations. That Charlie Fallon wasn't personally delivering bills to crying victims is no vindication for the Palin Administration in this matter. Unfortunately, he does have a point in that none of this proves anything about Sarah Palin's personal motivations for doing so or her personal feelings about rape victims. Of course, I also think it's a better attack to wonder whether she is either lying about not knowing what Fallon was doing under her leadership, or whether her leadership of the city of Wasilla was so lax that she actually didn't know that he was arguing with the legislature and giving quotes to the local paper about his actions. Let Jim Geraghty fact check that, 'cause it's gotta be one or the other. Wasilla Debunking Kit [National Review] Trying To Fact Check Sarah Palin On Rape Kits [Feministing] The Reform Candidate? [Washington Independent] New Evidence: Palin Had Direct Role In Charging Rape Victims For Exams [Huffington Post] Knowles Signs Sexual Assault Bill [Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman] Palin On Abortion: I'd Oppose Even If My Own Daughter Was Raped [Huffington Post]

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I told my boyfriend's mom (a staunch Republican) about this and she said "Well how many rapes are there in Alaska, anyway?" and I said "NOT THAT IT MATTERS but Alaska actually has the highest rate of sexual assault per capita of any state" and she said "I refuse to believe that".

Ignoring facts is a conservative meme, it seems...