I'd like Secretary of State Candidate Dan Severson to explain something to me.
As you recall, there was a bit of an uproar during the campaign when it was reported that while Mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, Gov. Palin may have had something to do with a policy of charging rape victims the cost of the kit used to gather the forensic evidence usually needed for the investigation and prosecution of the crime. The kits generally cost between $500 and $1200. The cruel practice of making victims pay for the investigation of the crime committed against them seems to be unique to rape victims. It is also unfortunately far too common, even though it seems to run afoul of the spirit of the Violence Against Women Act. The Department of Justice FAQs on the law's requirements indicate:
Q: What is the new federal law regarding forensic examination?(Emphasis added.)
A: The Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005 ("VAWA 2005"), 42 U.S.C. § 3796gg-4(d), provides that states may not "require a victim of sexual assault to participate in the criminal justice system or cooperate with law enforcement in order to be provided with a forensic medical exam, reimbursed for charges incurred on account of such an exam, or both" (the "VAWA 2005 forensic examination requirement"). Under this provision a state must ensure that victims have access to an exam free of charge or with full reimbursement, even if the victim chooses not to report the crime to the police or otherwise cooperate with the criminal justice system or law enforcement authorities. Prior to VAWA 2005, states were required to ensure access to such exams free of charge or with full reimbursement but could condition the exams on cooperation with law enforcement.
An exam is not exactly the same as a rape kit, of course, but you get the point. And this is where Candidate Severson and the questions I have for him come into the picture. Severson is currently serving as a state representative for House District 14A. His legislative proposals include such pressing issues as the use of embossed seals on certifications of premarital education and elimination the use of student IDs as part of what is needed to register to vote on election day.
But it's House File 517 that I'd like discuss. It was the first bill Rep. Severson introduced in the 2009-2010 session, and it would require those sexual assault victims not yet ready to fully "cooperate" with law enforcement to pay for half the cost of their own evidence gathering kits:
If the victim refuses to substantiate the assault and file a report with a law enforcement agency, the counties are liable for only 50 percent of the total costs of the examination as described under paragraph (a).Although the bill never went anywhere and died a well-deserved death, questions remain for the man who authored the bill. Representative Severson, do you really believe that rape victims should be billed for the costs of investigating the crimes committed against them? Do you believe that a victim who is too traumatized to "cooperate" with law enforcement should forfeit the right to have the crime fully investigated? Do you really think that a rape victim who is in an abusive family situation and fears further violence doesn't deserve law enforcement services unless she pays money for them? What other federal laws designed to help victims of criminal acts would you have the State of Minnesota ignore? Or do you think rape is somehow different from other crimes?
Now I know that Mr. Severson is running for Secretary of State, not a county prosecutor position, but deeper questions arise. The Secretary of State is charged with assuring that state laws that provide for confidential addresses for victims of harassment and stalking are enforced. I don't know that I'm convinced that someone who would treat actual victims of crimes in such an insensitive manner would put much effort into protecting potential victims.
But the Secretary of State does have a great deal to do with both the federal and state laws in place that assure fair voting for all citizens. Given his willingness to push legislation that goes against the thinking behind the Violence Against Women Act, what about protections in the Voting Rights Act?