Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sarah Palin and the rape kit issue.

As progressives, we advance and defend ideas, perspectives and opinions. We need to be thorough when doing research, especially in cases where far-ranging information is available to us.
When I first heard about Sarah Palin and the rape kit issue, I was outraged. It turns out that I was right to be angry that sexual assault victims should have to bear the cost of gathering evidence so that criminal charges and legal proceedings can move forward against their rapist. However, Governor Palin is not the only elected official willfully indifferent to this issue.
As it turns out, this is a serious problem in many U.S. states, and not only in Alaska. Michelle Andrews is a blogger for U.S. News. In February 2008, she wrote:
"It's been a problem for a long time," says Ilse Knecht, deputy director of public policy at the National Center for Victims of Crime. "We've heard so many stories of victims paying for their exams, or not being able to and then creditors coming after them." In order to qualify for federal grants under the Violence Against Women Act, states have to assume the full out-of-pocket costs for forensic medical exams, as the rape kits are
called. But according to a 2004 bulletin published by the NCVC, "[F]eedback from the field indicates that sexual assault victims are still being billed." Knecht says she's recently heard from caseworkers in Illinois, Georgia, and Arkansas reporting that rape victims continue to be charged for their forensic exams.

The rape kit itself generally contains bags to collect clothing, test tubes for collecting blood, swabs for fluid, and a comb to collect pubic hair. Small-change stuff. But exams also involve administering tests for pregnancy, HIV, gonorrhea, and syphilis, and that's where the costs add up, says Randall Brown, medical director for the Baton Rouge Rape Crisis Center in Louisiana.

How forensic exam costs are handled varies. In some locations, hospitals bill patients' insurance and absorb whatever the insurers don't pay or bill patients for the balance. Some states have special funds to cover a portion of the costs. Others require convicted offenders to pay into a fund to reimburse the costs of the exams.

Of course, it's the health care portion that makes the cost of forensic medical exams a political hot potato in the U.S.; will that be - insurance, Medicaid, cash or credit card?
Ironically, the nature of rape may actually make it more likely that victims will be billed for the evidence-gathering exam. Unlike a break-in, where police gather forensic evidence at the victim's home and send it directly to the crime lab, in rape the victim's body is the scene of the crime. In these cases, "there's a crossover between medical care and forensic care," says Brown.
In September, Michelle Andrews blogged about this again, and reminded her readers that other elected officials in other jurisdictions have done nothing to ensure that rape victims are not financially burdened with procedures that are required as a consequence of a crime committed against them.

If on her watch Sarah Palin allowed women to be charged for rape kits, she has some serious explaining to do. But while she's undoubtedly the most visible offender, if the story is true, she's unfortunately not the only one to have permitted this reprehensible practice.
Regardless, it should prove reassuring to Republicans that Sarah Palin did not intervene in any manner to indicate that issues related to justice for women, or their physical and legal well-being, are important to her. In fact, Palin is the very embodiment of a phenomenon that was named and documented in the 70's: the Queen Bee syndrome. As long as she can enjoy the privileges of admission into a sacrosanct men's club, other women can pretty much fend for themselves.

(Merci to Dr Dawg who raised the question.)

September 18 / Update: In the comments, buckets mentions contraception. In a new development just emerging, it would seem that factor may indeed be a critical element and, this may as well be somehow connected to Troopergate. I will dedicate another blog post to this issue as soon as more facts are available.

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