Did Samantha Bee's rape-kit bill bit help the bill pass?

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed Wednesday, March 31, 2016

Late-night political comedy shows are primarily meant to make people laugh and maybe make them think a bit. But on occasion, they might even propel actual change.

TBS's new weekly show "Full Frontal With Samantha Bee" had an apparent impact on a stalled rape-kit bill in the Georgia legislature last week. Bee called out Republican state senator Renee Unterman for blocking the bill, which requires Georgia law enforcement to find and count untested sexual assault evidence.

After Bee's piece aired, key folks in the state legislature found a way to work around Unterman to ensure the bill would hit the Senate floor. It did so at the very last second last Thursday and passed with flying colors. (Details here from my colleague Willoughby Mariano, who broke the story last year about 1,400 untest rape kits at Grady Memorial Hospital.)

"The Samantha Bee piece definitely made an impression," said Scott Holcomb, the House sponsor of the bill, where it passed unanimously before Unterman refused to let it go to committee on the Senate side. "Nobody wants to be ridiculed on national television. I think that and the Mike Luckovich cartoon raised the level of media scrutiny." He personally didn't spread the video around because he didn't want to make it personal but he was aware it went viral.

In the piece, using 11 Alive footage, Unterman said if there was a problem with rape kits, "I would be Johnny on the spot and I would have written the legislation."

"Excuse me, I just have to check my feminist rule book," Bee said, opening a mock feminist rule book. "Oh, here we are: no rape jokes and don't be mean to other women."

She then threw the book away and said to Unterman: "Woman? Have you lost your f***in' mind? Are you just p*ssed that someone else wrote the law instead of you or are you in the pocket of Big Rape?"

Unterman said that the "issue was being resolved [with a $2 million federal grant] and there's no reason to write a law just to make you feel good." She also said to press that she would address the issue next year.

Better Georgia, a progressive policy group, sent out a link to the comedy bit on Tuesday morning to its followers.

Unterman that day on the Senate floor angrily castigated the group for spreading this comedy story around.

Stephanie Davis, who is on the board of the YWCA of Greater Atlanta, which backed the rape kit bill, said Unterman's opposition made her "a sitting duck for that." She said Unterman has taken pride in being in control of issues like this and believes she was affronted someone else had taken the lead.

Ann Burdges, executive director Gwinnett Sexual Assault Center & Children's Advocacy Center, said she believes Bee had "a huge influence and a huge impact" in reviving the bill.

Burdges happened to be at a conference in D.C. addressing sexual violence and Bee's bit was a hot topic there. She said talks to find another home for the contents of the bill happened just a few hours after Bee's bit aired on March 21. "It was no holds barred from that point," Burdges said. "It was surrender or give it everything we had. There was too much bi-partisan support for anybody to walk away. What Samantha Bee and Full Frontal did was put a bright spotlight on it and jolted the activists' response to it."

And as Davis noted, Bee has been doing a great job since she debuted last month addressing subjects her male counterparts wouldn't care to touch.

On March 25, the "Full Frontal" staff posted this Tweet:

Jo Miller, a Westminster graduate, is show runner for "Full Frontal" and wrote for Bee for six years on "The Daily Show."

"It was great to see the legislature work together to get that done," she said. "We have no illusions about our impact. We know how little we can do. But if we can ever be helpful in any way, it's a thrill. Obviously, the backlog of rape kits was something we were upset about. The act of women going through this horribly invasive process and not even have their kits tested is outrageous."

As Bee's story noted, when rape kits are tested, serial rapists are found and convicted. So although it costs money and time, it's effective, she said.


"Full Frontal With Samantha Bee," 10:30 p.m. Mondays, TBS

Luckovich rape kit

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.