A University of Minnesota student who went public with her fight for justice against the man who raped her has stirred action everywhere from the school president’s office to Washington, where officials pledged to change how campus sexual assault cases are handled.
After Abby Honold’s story ran Oct. 23 in the Star Tribune, the 21-year old met with U President Eric Kaler and has been in contact with the offices of Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Al Franken, where they agreed to work on the issues raised by Honold’s case.
“There’s a lot more to be done,” she said. “But I’m pleased with who has reached out so far.”
During her meeting with Kaler, Honold said she wanted the school to change its policies on how campus rapes are investigated. Kaler said that he would work to do that, Honold said.
The first steps are already being taken to see that happens. Katie Eichele, the director of the U’s Aurora Center for Advocacy & Education, said she recently received a call from the Minneapolis Police Department hoping to “find out how to better communicate and work through these issues,” she said.
Honold was a junior at the school in November 2014 when she was violently raped by another student, Daniel Drill-Mellum. After Minneapolis police initially arrested Drill-Mellum, the Hennepin County attorney’s office declined to press charges and he was released.
Honold would later learn about a video taken by Drill-Mellum’s Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity brothers. In the video, made the day after she was raped, the men put an unsuspecting Honold on speaker phone and made a recording of themselves as they spoke with her. In the recording, she said “yes” when asked if the sex was consensual. But Honold misheard the question, and in the same video repeatedly said she was raped. The fraternity has since cut ties with the two men and Drill-Mellum.
It would take another year and the involvement of Kevin Randolph, another officer who took over the case, who persuaded more victims to come forward, before Drill-Mellum was charged. He pleaded guilty to two counts of criminal sexual conduct in August. Honold looked on as he was sentenced to six years in prison.
1,000 reported, 0 prosecuted
Before Drill-Mellum’s conviction, there were more than 1,000 sex assaults reported since 2010 to the Aurora Center, the school’s rape prevention and victim advocacy department, according to a Star Tribune review of the center’s reports. Yet, according to Eichele, the total number of assault prosecutions was zero.
Eichele said a representative from Dayton’s office reached out to her to see if any policy changes could be made on a state level.
“I am appalled that so many cases of campus sexual assault are not being prosecuted,” Gov. Mark Dayton said in a statement to the Star Tribune. “While those cases are the responsibilities of local law enforcement agencies and Minnesota’s colleges and universities, we will continue working to determine what can be done at the state level to bring those sexual criminals to justice.”
Representatives from Dayton and Franken’s office had already spoken to Honold and her attorney, Amy Isenor, before the story ran about doing more to hold campus rapists accountable, and said they will continue to communicate with each other.
“Abby has shown tremendous courage in coming forward and in her determination to make sure that her attacker was brought to justice,” Franken said in a statement. “Her efforts have shed light on problems in how the system handles sexual assault cases, and I look forward to meeting with Abby personally and continuing to work with her and her team to bring about positive change.”
Randolph, the officer who reopened the investigation, said he’s been asked to give a presentation to the Minneapolis City Council about why the case was not initially prosecuted.
“The national pressure has been there for colleges to do more,” Randolph said, “but the scenario needs to be tweaked so that prosecutors are doing more to take on these serious cases.”
Meanwhile, Honold says she’s been overwhelmed by the positive response to her story, which was shared all over the country. A week after it was published, she found herself in front of Dr. Phil.
A producer for the syndicated show had seen the story and flew Honold, Isenor and Randolph to Los Angeles to tape an episode set to air on Monday. Honold said she’s also been approached about making a movie based on her life, an offer she’s still considering. She never expected national attention, she added.
Rape survivors from around the country whose perpetrators were never charged have reached out to her, happy about the ultimate outcome of her case.
“It’s probably the best feeling to show that it can happen, even though it rarely happens,” she said.
But the attention, she said, has taken a toll. She said she has difficultly sleeping and has been so overwhelmed that although she still expects to graduate in the fall, she hasn’t gone back to school since the story came out.
“It’s been difficult to feel like I’m reliving my story all of the time,” she said. “But I still know the good of my story will outweigh any negative consequences.”