A blockbuster Star Tribune report over the weekend revealed Minnesota law enforcement agencies frequently fail to adequately investigate reports of rape and sexual assault, leaving many victims feeling betrayed by the system.
From the story:
A Star Tribune review of more than 1,000 sexual assault cases, filed around the state in a recent two-year period, reveals chronic errors and investigative failings by Minnesota’s largest law enforcement agencies, including those in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
In almost a quarter of the cases, records show, police never assigned an investigator.
In about one-third of them, the investigator never interviewed the victim.
In half the cases, police failed to interview potential witnesses.
Most of the cases — about 75 percent, including violent rapes by strangers — were never forwarded to prosecutors for criminal charges. Overall, fewer than one in 10 reported sexual assaults produced a conviction, records show.
Star Tribune readers left dozens of comments on the article and on Facebook expressing shock at the findings and support for the women who spoke out about their experiences. Some defended the police while others offered theories about the causes of the problem or possible solutions.
Here is a selection of some of those comments.
A reader with the username mobocracy wanted to know what was different about the cases that were successfully prosecuted.
This is pretty shocking to read, especially when it includes a stranger rape in a public parking lot -- you would expect that would be the one type of assault that would get vigorously investigated since there's not much room for even a cynical he-said/she-said interpretation.
I do wonder how easy it actually is to investigate some rapes. A random stranger assault in a public place -- without a DNA match or a good visual from a camera, what can the police actually do? The pool of suspects from a public area could be in the hundreds if not thousands. Barring other evidence (good video, license plate, witness, etc), it sadly seems like the best outcome is a future DNA match when the perp gets caught elsewhere.
Then there's the whole range of date-rape type situations where there's a lack of certainty as to what really happened. Prosecutors can bring charges, but the "reasonable doubt" standard turns so many of these into he said/she said territory and often when the narrative is spun from the perp's perspective in court it winds up being enough doubt that you can't win convictions.
It would have been interesting to read about similar cases that did achieve successful prosecutions to see what made the difference -- investigative effort? Some type of evidence?
Several readers, like mdachs, speculated that the gender of the investigators may play a role.
I wonder if the miserable statistics have anything to do with the ratio of male to female investigators and police officers - in other words, are the majority of investigators and police officers male? Without having national statistics on the causes of low statistics like these, I wonder if the fact that most, not all, rapes are committed against women and not men - and that may be the reason for what we read above?
Sharon Taylor and a handful of other commenters took issue with a quote from Nate Gove, director of the state board that licenses law enforcement officers, who said he has "not seen the appetite" for legislative action to require statewide standards for sexual assault investigations.
This statement made me sick. It felt cavalier and insensitive to me as I read it. Words do matter and in a big way.
Every last person should be incensed over this. This is not only about rape and the shortage of proper investigation whose ever fault that is but it's about women still not being valued as equal human beings. Of course we have Harvey Weinsteins in this world when we choose to allow violence against women to prevail.
Nancy A. Peterson called for action from lawmakers.
WE need to contact our state legislators and press for action. Then we need to show up at the Capitol as often as it takes. If this guy hasn’t “seen the appetite” for action it’s because we’ve allowed too many victims to carry the burden alone, and invisibly.
Reader curiosone, who identified as a former prosecutor in Minnesota, called into question one of the experts quoted in the article, Sgt. (Ret.) Elizabeth Donegan, former head of the Austin (Texas) Police Department's sex crimes unit. Donegan criticized a Minneapolis police officer who asked a victim if "everything you've told me is true and accurate," which Donegan said suggests to the victim that the investigator thinks they might be lying.
Donegan's claim is nonsense. This question is asked of the vast majority of witnesses and victims in ALL types of cases who give transcribed statements. It is not expressing "doubt," it is the victim confirming their statement in the strongest possible terms. So, if the Strib's "expert" thinks this is somehow a red flag, then I question the expertise of this "expert." BTW, I prosecuted sex abuse and rape cases for years in Minnesota, so I am familiar with how things are done. That being said, when I prosecuted those cases I also was frustrated on occasion with inadequate investigations. Unfortunately, the inadequacy usually occurred from lack of resources. Those resources can be increased, but expect your taxes to go up to support them. Maybe we can drop some government projects that pale in importance to solving and prosecuting rape cases, and use the saved money to go after rapists.
The Star Tribune is continuing to report on how law enforcement handles sexual assault cases in Minnesota. If you are a survivor who wants to talk about your experience with police or prosecutors, we would like to hear from you. We are also interested in hearing readers' questions and ideas about areas to pursue. More information on how to get in touch with us can be found here.