Is Chris Christie “Pulling a Palin?” New Jersey Rape Survivors Billed for Forensic Kits
A rape kit is a forensic evidence kit, and is used to collect any physical evidence that may have been left behind by the rapist. It involves having the victim report to a medical facility as soon after the crime as possible, where samples are taken of hair, blood, fingernail scrapings, vaginal swabs and other invasive tests. It can be highly traumatic for the victim to have this type of evidence collected just after they have been sexually assaulted, but it is key to the identification, and prosecution of the perpetrator.
Back in the late ’90s, in one community in Alaska, the victims of rape were actually being charged hundreds of dollars to pay for their own rape kits – the gathering of evidence for a crime of which they were the victim.
Former Alaska State Representative Eric Croft (D) was a strong advocate for the abolition of this practice. In a 2008 interview, he explained,
Late 1999, we kept hearing rumors that some communities were charging rape victims for the cost of the rape exam. I put in a bill in the legislature (HB270) to try and outlaw that practice. I expected when I introduced the bill in January of 2000, that we’d sort of shame them out of it. But Wasilla… and Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin was then Mayor of Wasilla, outed itself as the entity that was doing it… Fannon (the Wasilla Police Chief hired under Palin) was very clear that they thought that was a good thing. Better than the tax payers paying for it, in his opinion.
Chief Fannon 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.” Well, if there’s one thing you can say about “these people” is that they sure as heck are fiscally irresponsible, and that’s really the main point. And with Alaska being number one in the nation per capita for instances of rape and sexual assault, there sure are a lot of “those people” out there.
Mind you, nobody in Wasilla was charging the victims of drunk driving accidents for the breathalyzer or blood tests of the drunk driver. Nobody was charging robbery victims to measure footprints outside the window of their homes. But if you were a rape victim, well then it was time for the government to send you a message. No free ride.
It is worthy of note that the policy of billing the victims for their own rape kits was not in effect during the administration of John Stein, Palin’s predecessor as Mayor of Wasilla.
Happily, in the year 2000, Alaska Governor Tony Knowles (D) signed legislation that abolished that policy. Wasilla Chief of Police Fannon argued the point all the way up to the bill signing.
But as much as the rest of the country may be tempted to sneer at those backward-thinking Alaskans and their crazy right wing misogynistic conservative ways, the problem and injustice of billing women for their rape kits is not confined to the sleepy little hamlet of Wasilla, Alaska. Not by a long shot.
As long as the crime scene isn’t your own body, the cost of evidence gathering is free, but be the victim of violent sexual assault, and you can still receive a bill in New Jersey.
“In no other crime would it even be contemplated that victims receive an invoice for the collection of evidence needed to prosecute the offenders,” stated [New Jersey State] Sen. Diane Allen, who decided to put a stop to this “inhumane practice” by sponsoring legislation that would protect survivors from being harassed for payment. Allen continued: “Victims who receive a bill are needlessly forced to relive their attack all over again by the very people to whom they turned for help.”
Happily, the legislation sailed through both houses of the NJ legislature, but they too have hit a stumbling block, and it isn’t some podunk police chief and his ideologue Mayor in a little backwater town. It is Governor Chris Christie who has failed to sign the legislation that has been sitting on his desk for ten weeks.
In 2010, almost a thousand reported rapes happened in the state of New Jersey. That means while Mr. Christie sits in his chair stroking his chin and trying to decide whether victims should be charged and pursued by bill collectors if they can’t pay up, 190 women (give or take a few) will be getting an invoice for their own victimization.
On his website, it says that “Governor Christie welcomes the opportunity to consider your thoughts…” You can give yours to him by clicking HERE.