ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CNN)
-- Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's hometown required women to pay for their own rape examinations while she was mayor, a practice
her police chief fought to keep as late as 2000.
former Alaskan lawmaker says it seems unlikely that Gov. Sarah Palin was unaware of Wasilla's policy.
Former state Rep. Eric Croft,
a Democrat, sponsored a state law requiring cities to provide the examinations free of charge to victims. He said the only
ongoing resistance he met was from Wasilla, where Palin was mayor from 1996 to 2002.
"It was one of those things
everyone could agree on except Wasilla," Croft told CNN. "We couldn't convince the chief of police to stop charging them."
Alaska's Legislature in
2000 banned the practice of charging women for rape exam kits -- which experts said could cost up to $1,000.
Palin, the Republican nominee for vice president, often talks
about her experience running Wasilla, population approximately 7,000, and that has prompted close scrutiny of her record there.
Wasilla's practice of charging victims for their rape exams while she was mayor has gotten wide circulation on the Internet
and in the mainstream media.
Some supporters of Palin
say they believe she had no knowledge of the practice. But critics call it "outrageous" and question Palin's commitment to
helping women who are the victims of violence.
For years, Alaska has had the worst record of any state in rape and in murder
of women by men. The rape rate in Alaska is 2.5 times the national average.
Interviews and a review
of records turned up no evidence that Palin knew that rape victims were being charged in her town. But Croft, the former state
representative who sponsored the law changing the practice, says it seems unlikely Palin was not aware of the issue.
"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," Croft said.
During the time Palin was
mayor of Wasilla, her city was not the only one in Alaska charging rape victims. Experts testified before the Legislature
that in a handful of small cities across Alaska, law enforcement agencies were charging victims or their insurance "more than
One woman who wrote in support
of the legislation says she was charged for her rape exam by a police department in the city of Juneau, which is hundreds
of miles from Wasilla.
But Wasilla stood out. Tara
Henry, a forensic nurse who has been treating rape victims across Alaska for the last 12 years, told CNN that opposition to
Croft's bill from Wasilla Police Chief Charlie Fannon was memorable.
"Several municipal law enforcement
agencies in the state did have trouble budgeting and paying for the evidence collection for sexual assault victims," Henry
said. "What I recall is that the chief of police in the Wasilla police department seemed to be the most vocal about how it
was going to affect their budget."
Croft has a similar memory.
He said victims' advocates suggested he introduce legislation as a way to shame cities into changing their practice, and Wasilla
"I remember they had continued
opposition," Croft said. "It was eight years ago now, but they were sort of unrepentant that they thought the taxpayers shouldn't
have to pay for that."
He does not recall discussing
the issue with then-Mayor Palin.
The bill, HB270, was before
the legislature for six months. In testimony, one expert called the practice of billing the victim "incomprehensible." Others
compared it to "dust[ing] for fingerprints" after a burglary, only "the victim's body is the crime scene."
During a rape exam, the
victim removes her clothing and a medical professional gathers DNA evidence from her body. There is also a medical component
to assess her injuries. That component has led some law enforcement agencies to balk at paying.
Henry, the forensic nurse,
said charging victims "retraumatizes them."
"Asking them to pay for
something law enforcement needs in order to investigate their case, it's almost like blaming them for getting sexually assaulted,"
The Alaska Legislature agreed.
The bill passed unanimously with the support of the Alaska Department of Public Safety, the Alaska Peace Officers Association
and more than two dozen co-sponsors.
After it became law, Wasilla's
police chief told the local paper, The Frontiersman, that it would cost the city $5,000 to $14,000 a year -- money that he'd
have to find.
"In the past, we've charged
the cost of the exams to the victim's insurance company when possible," Fannon was quoted as saying. "I just don't want to
see any more burden on the taxpayer."
He suggested the criminals
should pay as restitution if and when they're convicted. Repeated attempts to reach Fannon for comment were unsuccessful.
Judy Patrick, who was Palin's
deputy mayor and friend, blames the state.
"The bigger picture of what
was going on at the time was that the state was trying to cut their own budget, and one of the things that they were doing
was passing on costs to cities, and that was one of the many things that they were passing on, the cost to the city," said
Patrick, who recalls enormous pressure to keep the city's budget down.
But the state was never
responsible for paying the costs of local investigations. Patrick was also a member of Wasilla City Council, and she doesn't
recall the issue coming before council members, nor does she remember discussing the issue with Palin.
She does recall Palin going
through the budget in detail. She said Palin would review each department's budget line by line and send it back to department
heads with her changes.
"Sarah is a fiscal conservative,
and so she had seen that the city was heading in a direction of bigger projects, costing taxpayers more money, and she was
determined to change that," Patrick said.
Before Palin came to City
Hall, the Wasilla Police Department paid for rape kits out of a fund for miscellaneous costs, according to the police chief
who preceded Fannon and was fired by Palin. That budget line was cut by more than half during Palin's tenure, but it did not
specifically mention rape exams.
In a statement, Jill Hazelbaker,
communications director for Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign, said that "to imply that Gov. Palin
is or has ever been an advocate of charging victims for evidence gathering kits is an utter distortion of reality."
"As her record shows, Gov.
Palin is committed to supporting victims and bringing violent criminals to justice," Hazelbaker said. "She does not, nor has
she ever believed that rape victims should have to pay for an evidence gathering test."
Those who fought the policy
"It's incomprehensible to
me that this could be a rogue police chief and not a policy decision. It lasted too long and it was too high-profile," Croft
The rape kit charges have
become an issue among Palin critics who say as governor she has not done enough to combat Alaska's epidemic problem of violence
against women. They point to a small funding increase for domestic violence shelters at a time when Alaska has a multibillion-dollar
budget surplus. Victims' advocates say that services are lacking and that Palin cut funding for a number of programs that
treat female victims of violence.