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Attorney General Lori Swanson convenes sexual assault task force

September 12, 2018

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson said Wednesday that a task force shes convened to improve how police respond to reports of rape and sexual assault would hold its first meeting next week.

Swanson has asked the 10-member group, which will start meeting on Tuesday, to come up with recommendations to the Legislature by December on how to reform laws and policies. Swanson said she hopes the work wont just help Minnesotas system but become a model for other states across the country.

Were seeing some of the failures in the criminal justice system, Swanson said Wednesday. Id like to see Minnesota be a national leader in this area.

The start of the new task force follows the Star Tribunes special report, Denied Justice, documenting pervasive failings in the way Minnesota law enforcement agencies investigate sexual assault. The yearlong project, which examined more than 1,000 sexual assault reports from 2015 and 2016, found hundreds of cases in which police across Minnesota failed to pursue basic investigative steps.

In about one-third of the cases studied, the police investigator failed to interview the victim and in half the cases, police failed to interview potential witnesses. Overall, only about one in four reported sexual assaults was ever forwarded to a prosecutor, and fewer than one in 10 resulted in a conviction.

The Denied Justice series very much illustrated and highlighted some of the failures in the criminal justice system, Swanson said, calling the newspapers report incredibly troubling.

Minnesota doesnt have mandated training or uniform policies for investigating sexual assault cases.

But since the Star Tribunes series, which started in July, some state legislators have said they will pursue legislation such as pressing the states police licensing board to enact a model protocol for responding to sex assaults or additional funding for investigations. Gov. Mark Dayton has called on the states police licensing board to produce strong guidelines for sex assault.

And in Congress, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Tom Emmer have co-sponsored the Abby Honold Act, which would provide federal grants to train investigators in the best techniques for interviewing rape victims. It is named for Abby Honold, a University of Minnesota student who was raped in 2014 and became an advocate for better police response.

Now, the new state sex assault investigation group will help determine if there are better training programs and ways to allocate resources in the system. The next legislative session convenes on January 8, shortly after the deadline for the groups report.

Swanson said she selected experts who represent victim/survivor advocates and criminal justice system leaders who can find consensus. The group includes former Minneapolis City Council member Barb Johnson, doctor Mark Hudson, Isanti County Sheriffs Office Chief Deputy Lisa Lovering, Minnesota Indian Womans Sexual Assault Coalition Executive Director Nicole Matthews, professor Carolyn Porta, Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault Executive Director Teri Walker McLaughlin, Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women Executive Director Elizabeth Richards, Inver Grove Heights Police Chief Paul Schnell, St. Paul Police Sgt. Nichole Sipes and Anoka County Attorneys office Criminal Division Chief Paul Young.

With four months left of her tenure as the states attorney general, Swanson said she hopes her work with sex crime victims will be part of her legacy, citing her fight over the constitutionality of Minnesotas sex offender incarcerations. It was her first interview since running for governor and losing in the three-way DFL primary.

It is a very horrific crime, Swanson said. A victims life, once shattered, is never the same.

Kelly Smith 612-673-4141

Twitter: @kellystrib

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