Sexual assault task force meets for first time
A group of law enforcement and public health officials along with victim advocacy groups met for the first time Tuesday in pursuit of changes to the way sexual assault cases are handled in Minnesota.
The task force, appointed by Attorney General Lori Swanson, met at the State Capitol. They have been charged with developing recommendations on law enforcement best practices as well as policy changes that Minnesota lawmakers could enact in the upcoming legislative session. They plan to develop a report for the Legislature before it convenes Jan. 8.
Swanson created the task force after the Star Tribune reviewed more than 1,000 cases and published a special report, Denied Justice, that examined why so few people who commit sexual assault or rape are convicted.
Lets learn from whats working and lets improve and fix the things that arent working, Swanson told the group.
She suggested various areas for the task force to dig into. Swanson said she would like the members to analyze how investigations of rape and sexual assault cases are handled, from how investigators are assigned, to whether key participants are interviewed and background checks are conducted, to how evidence is preserved.
Victim sensitivity and compassion are also critical, Swanson said, noting that people are more likely to cooperate with the criminal justice system if they feel they are being treated with dignity. She suggested that the group look into victim rights and ways to make sure survivors are kept up to date on how cases are progressing.
Additionally, they could review model policies for law enforcement training, Swanson said. The state does not have training mandates or uniform policies for how law enforcement investigates such cases.
Deputy Attorney General David Voigt, who is helping run the group, suggested they spend the next month or so gathering information, then come up with recommendations in November and draft and approve a report for the Legislature by sometime in December.
He said the issues the Denied Justice report raised are not new, but this is a good time to try to address them.
Its created a lot of momentum. Its not necessarily new, but its opened up a lot of eyes, Voigt said, noting they should take advantage of the interest in the issue and come up with something practical and effective changes.
Jessie Van Berkel 651-925-5044