Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sarah Palin & Sexual Assult Victims - A Brief Study

Sarah Palin, the GOP Vice-Presidential nominee selected (many feel) for her gender and hard-line conservative stance, had a direct role in the city of Wasilla's policy to make sexual assault victims, or their medical insurance providers, pay for evidence-gathering medical investigations. By working backwards, it's a straight-forward process to construct the relevant timeline and determine exactly what happened:

Sometime during Sarah Palin's tenure as Mayor of Wasilla (in fact, during the discussion in the Alaska Assembly of HB 270), the hospitals changed their accounting practices and began sending bills for the forensic tests used in sexual assault cases to victims or their medical insurance providers.(1)

The change in accounting practices came on the heels of a drastic 75% budget cut to the "contractual services" line item of the Wasilla Police Department's FY 2000 Budget; notes in the budget described the "contractual services" line item as "... costs for medical blood tests for intoxicated drivers & medical exam/evidence collection for sexual assaults..."(2) It's important to note that between 1994 and 1999, the budget for this line item varied from $2,500 - $4,200 with the actual costs only exceeding the budget one of those years; it's also important to note that the actual costs for those years exceeded the FY 2000 $1,000 budget EVERY YEAR.(3)

Mayor Palin was required by the Wasilla Municiple Code to "...prepare and submit an annual budget and capital improvement program for consideration by the council, and execute the budget and capital program as adopted..."(4) Therefore, she either slashed the budget line item herself or did not respond to her staffer's slashing of the budget line item.

The budget reduction came after Mayor Palin replaced founding Police Chief Irl Stambaugh with Chief Charlie Fannon. It comes as no surprise that Chief Fannon was a strong advocate of the practice of billing the victims and a noted outspoken critic of the legislation that ended the practice.(5)

Reconstructing what happened from the beginning, it's clear that Mayor Palin replaced Police Chief Stambaugh with Charlie Fannon, an advocate of billing victims for their forensic tests, then submitted a budget she either prepared or approved that contained a 75% budget cut to the line item containing funding for "medical exam/evidence collection for sexual assaults". On the heels of this budget cut, hospitals changed their accounting practices and began billing victims for these exams. Assuming the information I've drawn on is correct, there is little plausible deniability about what happened and what was intended to happen.

(1) As reported by Lauree Hugonin, then-Director of the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (ANDVSA).
(2) Page G-24 of the Wasilla FY '94 Budget.
(3) As detailed in Jacob Alperin-Sheriff's article on The Huffington Post (I have NOT independently verified these numbers).
(4) Item A.6 Section 2.26.020 of the Wasilla Municipal Code.
(5) As disclosed in a USA Today article quoting an interview with Chief Fannon appearing in the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman.