The Ramsey County attorney’s office will begin reviewing uncharged sexual assault cases next month in an effort to improve rates of reporting by survivors, along with prosecution.
The move is part of a Ramsey County initiative launched Tuesday called Ramsey County: A Start by Believing Community. The push is aimed at creating a culture among citizens and law enforcement that frees sexual assault survivors of the shame, guilt and blame that often prevent them from reporting such crimes to police.
“It’s not just about our system responders; it’s about our community,” Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said of the approach.
The initiative is a localized version of the national campaign, Start by Believing.
Choi said it’s unclear how far back his team of attorneys will review cases. One assistant county attorney will be dedicated to reviewing cases that Choi’s office declined to charge, that were investigated by police but never forwarded for charging consideration, or that went unreported altogether. Three to four other attorneys will also assist.
The primary goal, Choi said, is to identify where and why the system is failing to investigate and prosecute such cases. A tangential benefit, he said, could include reopening some cases, although that could be hampered by the statute of limitations.
Nationally, he said, no more than 20 percent of sexual assault cases are reported to police and of those that are, less than 3 percent result in convictions.
About two-thirds of sexual abuse cases investigated in Ramsey County are never forwarded to the county attorney’s office for charging consideration. Exact numbers weren’t available Tuesday.
Some hurdles include the stigma survivors feel, the culture around investigating such crimes, the difficult nature of such cases and the high burden of proof in criminal prosecution, Choi said.
“The reality is, there is no finish line,” he said of combating sexual assault.
The initiative was announced at a news conference that turned emotional when Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough recounted how, last June, he first began talking about the sexual abuse he suffered from age 12 on at the hands of a Boy Scout leader.
“There’s still memories that come up that I stuffed away,” McDonough said.
Thousands of people have reached out to him since he went public last year with his story and filed a lawsuit against the Boy Scouts. He urged civilians and law enforcement to be mindful of how they interact with abuse survivors, because the wrong words could silence them.
“This is a big deal, those first responses, those first questions,” he said. “This is each and every one of our responsibility.”
The initiative also includes enhancing training for law enforcement and a public forum Wednesday night from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Hamline University Sundin Music Hall, 1531 Hewitt Av., St. Paul, with McDonough and other survivors.
The county also created a website, ramseycountybelievesyou.us, with links to events and resources.
“We’re thrilled,” Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault Executive Director Jeanne Ronayne said of the county’s initiative. “There’s some real, substantive resources” behind the effort.