“The reality is that most [police] officers will only get a sexual assault call once or twice a year. To them we say: Let’s get it right the first time. And then the next time, let’s do better.”

Nancy Dunlap
investigator, Hennepin County attorney’s office

TThe experiences described by the dozens of rape victims struck a familiar chord with dozens more who stepped forward to talk about how they were treated when they went to police.

“I felt like the suspect,” said Tiffany Boe, who reported being raped on her own bed in St. Cloud in 2015. The suspect denied having sexual contact with her, and police never tested Boe’s bedding for his DNA, according to records reviewed by the Star Tribune.

Many of the survivors said they had felt alone in their struggle.

“I literally thought this only happened to me,” said 29-year-old Casey Gillespie, who reported that a co-worker’s friend raped her while she was passed out in a Golden Valley apartment in 2017. A detective closed the case as “unfounded,” meaning the police concluded that no crime occurred. “I was devastated,” Gillespie said. “I felt like it was a waste for me to ever do anything.”

In a statement, the Golden Valley Police Department said investigators found video and photographic evidence to support the suspect’s account. “Detectives assigned to investigate sexual assaults,” it said “have the challenging responsibility to ask difficult questions of all individuals involved.”

Jennifer, 42VIEW VIDEO

“If my story can drive any sort of change … that’s why I’m here.”

Jennifer, who asked that her last name not be used, reported being raped in St. Paul in 2014. Ramsey County declined to prosecute, saying there was insufficient evidence to prove that a rape occurred. When the man was tried for another attack in another county, she wasn’t allowed to testify because her case was never charged. The man was acquitted.

Catherine Davlin, 29VIEW VIDEO

“I was left to fend for myself.”

Davlin reported being raped by a stranger while she walked to her Minneapolis home late one night in 2015. More than a year later, a suspect was identified and convicted. She said both the investigation and the drawn-out trial were demeaning.

Tiffany Boe, 21VIEW VIDEO

“How can you let a rapist walk free?”

Boe told St. Cloud police she was raped in her bed while asleep after a New Year’s Eve party in 2014. When the suspect denied any sexual contact, police closed the investigation. Boe said she went public with her story in hopes of holding police accountable. The investigating officer did not respond to a request for comment.

Katie Hirsch, 29VIEW VIDEO

“We feel heard, for once.”

Hirsch said a Minneapolis officer laughed at her when she walked into police headquarters in 2015 to report that she had been raped at a hotel two weeks earlier. She said he found a piece of scrap paper and started taking notes only when she insisted that he take down her account. She never heard back from police. Police said they could find no record of a complaint filed by Hirsch, and they encourage citizens to report unprofessional conduct by officers.

Jordan Stockberger, 30VIEW VIDEO

“It’s important to know how broken our system is so we can do something about it.”

Stockberger said she was raped by her boyfriend while unconscious after having had too much to drink. He later admitted to St. Louis Park police that she had been in no condition to have sex, but he was never charged with a crime. Stockberger filed a lawsuit against the man, which ended with a judgment against him for $1.

Elise Williams, 21VIEW VIDEO

“I got PTSD whenever I saw that blue condom.”

Williams reported being raped in her apartment by a friend from high school. She got a sexual assault exam and saved the blue condom he left behind. The man told police the two had sex, but indicated Williams didn’t say no. Ramsey County didn’t charge him, citing insufficient evidence. “If someone else hears my story, maybe the right thing will happen next time,” she said.

Casey Gillespie, 29VIEW VIDEO

“I wasn’t believed.”

Gillespie told Golden Valley police that she was raped by an acquaintance after she blacked out in bed. A detective played her a Snapchat video showing that she had been alert with the man earlier in the evening, and police eventually classified her case “unfounded.” A police spokesman said video and photographic evidence supported the suspect’s account.


I want to help other people.”

Mary Black was raped in her Minneapolis apartment in 1986, at age 23. Police closed the case without identifying a suspect. In October — 32 years later — she learned that her assailant had been identified using DNA from her original rape kit. The man was confined to the state sex-offender program in 2014, when investigators began examining possible links to previous crimes.


“It did just end up hurting me more than vindicating me.”

Gram told police in July 2015 that she had been raped a year earlier by an ex-boyfriend. She saved incriminating e-mails and text messages but said an investigator showed no interest. Police later dropped the case. Gram said she still grows anxious knowing her assailant is free. After seeing his brother on a city bus,she suffered a crippling panic attack.

Rachel Radford, 30VIEW VIDEO

“I was told I was lucky it was even being charged.”

Radford told Farmington police that a friend, 28-year-old Kyle Devries, raped her in his home in April 2017. Prosecutors charged Devries, who had a previous conviction for criminal sexual conduct, with a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. In July, he pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting Radford and served less than a month.


“I still have nightmares of this cop.”

Lien called police to report being raped in her Mankato apartment by a man she met on a dating site. Records show the officer gave the suspect eight days to provide his account, and Lien said police believed his story over hers. She has a recurring dream in which she answers a knock at her door and sees the officer with the suspect behind him holding a shotgun.


“I felt like I wasn’t important.”

Finch said she accepted a ride home from a friend she met at a bar in Chisholm. He took her to an apartment where she says he raped her. She filed a police report, giving the suspect’s name and phone number, but heard nothing for two years. This spring, after the Star Tribune inquired, an officer called her, apologized and said police have reopened her case.


“I felt like I needed to prove I wasn’t lying.”

Paye reported being raped twice by a man she was dating but says officers never tested the clothing and other evidence that she gave them. Her case file shows that police never called two women she named who might also have been victims. Police called the suspect, but when he refused to talk to them, they closed the case.

Janessa Marquette, 34VIEW VIDEO

“I literally just crumbled to the floor.”

Marquette says she was devastated by the phone call from prosecutors saying they would not charge an ex-boyfriend who she said raped her in his Edina home in April 2015. The Hennepin County Attorney's office declined to discuss the case, but said “conflicting statements” from a victim are among the reasons they sometimes are unable to charge a case.


“How do you lose a rape kit?”

Ortmeier-Clarke reported being raped by a man who came over to watch a movie after they met on a dating app. She said an officer initially said they couldn’t find her rape kit and another detective accused her of acting provocatively. “I wasn’t wearing a short skirt,” she said. “I wasn’t wearing a see-through blouse. And it wouldn’t have mattered. Because I said no.”


“Nobody teaches you how to be a victim.”

Schlecht went to a New Year’s Eve party and woke up 13 hours later in the basement, naked and in such pain that she couldn’t climb the steps. She said that when she asked an officer to have her rape kit tested, he told her that it was just a box with a red piece of evidence tape on it. “I was in there,” she said. “My hope was in there. My dignity was in that box.”


“I felt ... I never should have reported it.”

Ortega told police that an ex-boyfriend came to her apartment very drunk, yanked her hair so hard that she saw stars, then raped her. She said the police officer investigating her case asked what she had been wearing and why she didn’t scream or fight harder, which led her to question whether the attack was her fault.


“I felt like, I’m being accused of something.”

Mandi told Minneapolis police she was raped in a downtown parking ramp by a man she and her friend met in a bar after a Twins game. A detective, new to the sex crimes unit, told her prosecutors were unlikely to pursue the case, even though she had bruises and a sexual assault exam. The suspect told police the sex was consensual, and officers never found surveillance video of the time in question. Prosecutors said there was insufficient evidence to bring charges.


“Nobody had my back. Nobody protected me.”

Wendy called police in February 2016 to report that her ex-boyfriend broke into her home and raped her. Her case file shows that police never went to her home to collect evidence. The man was never charged, despite previous arrests and convictions for beating and stalking Wendy, who didn’t want her last name published. Police reopened her case after inquiries by the Star Tribune.

Kirby Griffiths, 30

“He’ll always remind me of how I am a survivor.”

Kirby Griffiths was terrified police wouldn’t believe her when she reported an attempted sex assault in West Valley City, Utah, in 2015. But her detective, Justin Boardman, diligently worked the case and obtained crucial evidence through an empathetic interview with Griffiths. She would later see the suspect plead guilty in court and be led away in handcuffs.

KiloMarie Granda, 35VIEW VIDEO

“Like I was worth less than garbage.”

Granda reported being raped by a colleague in 2013. He told police it was consensual. The man was charged, but Stevens County Attorney Aaron Jordan later dropped the charges, citing “new evidence.” Granda believes the evidence was the disclosure that she had been previously raped by another man, which she had never reported.


“I felt blamed. I felt like [police] didn’t believe me.”

Walton said she was raped in this Minneapolis hotel room by a man she met in a bar. She called 911 immediately, went to the hospital for a sexual assault exam, and gave police the suspect’s room number and the frantic text messages that she had sent her boyfriend. She said one of the first questions a police officer asked was why she was out at a bar alone that night.


“I was just lost in the dark.”

After she reported being raped by a man she met online, McGowan said a prosecutor asked whether she worked as a sex escort. Another asked why she took a shower after the rape. “I was scared,” she told them. “I didn’t want his body smell on me.” Police reopened her case following inquiries by the Star Tribune.

Brooke Morath, 24VIEW VIDEO

“It shouldn’t be this hard for a victim.”

Morath was hit with pepper spray and raped by a stranger in a parking lot near the University of Minnesota in 2015. Minneapolis police worked the case hard initially, but the investigation soon ground to a halt and no one was ever arrested. After inquiries from Morath and the Star Tribune in 2018, police said they had reopened her case. She has since befriended another rape survivor and they are forming a nonprofit to offer short-term housing for victims recovering from sexual assault.


“To them I was probably just some crack whore.”

Amber Mansfield said Minneapolis police didn’t believe her when she reported being raped in 2015 by the man she was seeing. A background check would have shown that the suspect was a convicted rapist with a long criminal record. But police didn’t check, and the man was charged with assaulting two other Minneapolis women a few months later. He is now in prison.


“How could I consent if I don’t remember anything?”

Howe reported being raped by a Lyft driver who took her home after a friend’s wedding in 2016. She was drunk and had no memory of the incident, but the driver later said in a text that they had sex. Police never questioned him, and prosecutors declined to file charges because a jury might not believe she was “physically helpless” under state law and unable to grant consent.


“I felt like it was immediately dismissed the second I brought up ... drinking.”

Vande Kieft was a college freshman drinking with friends at her St. Paul apartment building. After she went to bed, she said three men came into her room. She told police one stole her money, another held her down and a third raped her. Her sexual assault exam produced a DNA match, but the suspect said the sex was consensual. Her case was never charged.

Emma Top, 22VIEW VIDEO

“It made me question every single relationship.”

Top and her best friend from high school, Nick Shumaker, were chaperoning a high school band trip when he raped her at a Golden Valley hotel in 2016. A jury convicted Shumaker of felony sexual assault, which carried a state-recommended 4-year prison term. A Hennepin County judge sentenced him to less than a year in jail.

Hannah Traaseth, 16VIEW VIDEO

“I didn’t deserve what happened to me.”

Traaseth initially misled investigators about some details of the assault against her when she was 13. Police believed her and built a case against the two 21-year-old suspects, but prosecutors declined to file charges. They said they believed a jury would not convict the men because of the inconsistencies, and that the trial would pose a risk to her.


“The system is broken.”

After an evening out, Miyashiro allowed a friend to spend the night at her house in Minneapolis because he was too drunk to drive home. She reported that he raped her and said the man admitted to the rape in a phone call that police recorded at her suggestion. Prosecutors declined to take her case, and she said no one told her until she called her detective.


“Hundreds, if not thousands, of survivors have reached out to me.”

Honold was raped by a fellow U of M student near campus in 2014. Minneapolis police arrested a suspect but soon released him. It took more than a year before an investigator from another department picked up her case and helped her identify other victims and evidence that led to the conviction of Daniel Drill-Mellum. Honold has since become an advocate, working with state legislators and U.S. Sen Amy Klobuchar.

Katie Hirsch described how a Minneapolis police officer laughed at her when she attempted to report her 2015 rape. He found a piece of scratch paper to take notes, she said, only when she urged him to record her account. The victim advocate who accompanied her was shocked, she recalled. She never heard from the police again.

“It was just awful,” Hirsch said.

Minneapolis police said they could find no record of a complaint filed by Hirsch, and they encourage citizens to report unprofessional conduct by officers.

Of cases reviewed by the Star Tribune, only one in four was ever sent to a prosecutor.

And when police did forward cases for prosecution, some 80 percent never resulted in the filing of criminal charges — even in cases with DNA evidence, confessions or multiple victims.

Overall, less than one out of every 10 sex assaults reviewed by the Star Tribune resulted in a conviction.

A retired Twin Cities area prosecutor described her rage and bewilderment when she found herself on the other side of the justice system in 2010. Her daughter, then only 14, was lured away from a shopping mall by a group of young men who took turns raping her in a St. Paul house. The mother asked not to be named to protect her daughter, who is still struggling to heal.

In the initial police report, her daughter recalled crucial details, including the fact that one of the rapists had a gray-colored glass eye.

She pressed St. Paul police for two years to investigate the case. The detectives never even interviewed her daughter, she said.

When she learned this year that Ramsey County Attorney John Choi was investigating neglected rape cases, she e-mailed his office. Finally, eight years after her daughter’s harrowing experience, a St. Paul police detective called. He apologized and acknowledged that more should have been done, she said.

Her daughter did not want her case reopened, she said. It remains closed.

“I am ashamed to admit this justice system, which I so dearly loved and defended, was so incompetent and negligent when my family desperately sought its help and protection,” the former prosecutor said.

Even in the rare cases that led to convictions, victims described an exhausting struggle that shook their confidence in law enforcement.

Reforming rape investigations

Mayors, prosecutors, legislators and law enforcement leaders promised a wide-ranging set of reforms in the wake of a 2018 Star Tribune investigation, Denied Justice, which documented chronic failings in the way Minnesota investigates and prosecutes sexual assault cases. Several have already been adopted, and two legislative packages are being considered at the Capitol.

Promise Status Details
Minnesota Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board Create statewide training guidelines and investigation protocols for law enforcement officers who handle sexual assault reports. Complete The board created the states first model policy on sexual assault investigations and required all law enforcement agencies to have a policy. It also passed a set of recommendations to improve officer training, including creating a field guide for officers to carry. The training remains under development.
Former Attorney General Lori Swanson Develop legislative recommendations to improve Minnesotas sexual assault statutes and criminal justice practices. Ongoing Task force delivered report in December. Report said the Legislature should require police departments to adopt clear protocols on sexual assault cases; fund improved officer training, and require the state to collect better data on rape investigations.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman Assign a prosecutor to work in the Minneapolis Police Departments sex crimes unit. Complete Prosecutor is now working on sex assault cases with the MPD and the University of Minnesota Police Department.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Minneapolis Police Department Increase sex crimes unit from six detectives to at least 10. Handle sexual assault reports with compassion, accountability and responsiveness. Ongoing Overhaul announced Wednesday. The new policy adopts standards set by the POST Board; provides officers training in trauma-informed interview techniques, and emphasizes frequent communication between investigators and victims.
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter Increase the number of sex assault investigators and provide more specialized training for officers who handle sexual assault reports. Complete Funding for a new sex assault commander and additional investigators approved on Dec. 12. Former Utah sex crimes investigator Justin Boardman conducted a training session in November.
Washington County Attorney Pete Orput Review old sexual assault cases that prosecutors declined to pursue. Complete Case reviews revealed many inadequate investigations; prosecutors are developing a checklist to improve future investigations.
Ramsey County Attorney John Choi Help draft legislation reducing barriers to prosecution in cases involving intoxicated victims. Complete Worked with Rep. Marion O'Neill, who introduced the legislation in Jan.
Rep. Marion O’Neill Introduce legislation reducing statutory barriers to prosecution of sexual assaults. Ongoing Earlier this year ONeill introduced Hannahs Law, named after one of the survivors in the Star Tribune series, Denied Justice. The bill would eliminate many statutes of limitation, change the definition of consent, eliminate an age defense for defendants and revise other statutes.
Sen. Warren Limmer Conduct public hearings on Minnesota's failings in rape investigations. Complete Limmer has held two hearings so far, including one at which former Attorney General Swanson detailed her task forces report. Limmer also introduced a bill that would adopt some of those recommendations.

After being raped by a stranger as she walked to her Minneapolis home early on a Sunday morning in August 2015, Catherine Davlin notified police immediately. When she was alerted later that day that someone was using her credit cards less than a mile away, she called her local precinct. She said they told her it was an issue for the sex crimes unit, which couldn’t help her until Monday.

Minneapolis Police didn’t identify Davlin’s rapist, a young man named Mika Dalbec, until a year and a half later — and then only with a lucky break. Her ID turned up in Dalbec’s apartment, discovered by his landlord. By then, Dalbec had been charged and convicted in two other rapes.

Dalbec pleaded guilty in Davlin’s case and ultimately served prison time. But the court process, she said, was grueling and demeaning.

“Everything about the process was revictimizing,” Davlin told the Star Tribune. “It is completely broken.”

When asked for comment about Davlin’s case, Minneapolis Police spokesman John Elder said it highlighted the importance of treating victims with respect and skill.

“A criminal conviction without compassion, professionalism and empathy is not a complete success,” Elder said. He added that Minneapolis’ new police chief, Medaria Arradondo, plans to emphasize “procedural justice,” a focus on the way police treat people who report crimes.

Victim advocates and rape survivors say they are heartened by the many pledges of reform by police leaders, prosecutors and lawmakers.

But they also say they aren’t taking anything for granted.

Teri Walker McLaughlin, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, encouraged individual Minnesotans to re-examine their own attitudes toward rape and sexual behavior. That’s because victims often disclose their assault to family and friends first.

“If we aren’t doing a good job in our homes and … communities, it’s not going to even get to law enforcement,” she said. “We all need to do better.”

Safia Khan of the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women said the survivors’ stories, the new data and the public’s response have changed attitudes towards sexual assault and the justice system.

“It created a pivotal moment and I think in 20 years, we will look back and put our finger on this being the catalyst for a lot of change,” Khan said. “I think it’s basically created accountability in a way that we just haven’t seen before.”

A Wisconsin woman named Jennifer, who asked that her last name not be used, approached the Star Tribune with her story after reading the accounts of other sexual assault survivors.

Jennifer said she’s a mother of two, and was raped four years ago in St. Paul. She reported the assault to police, but the man was never charged with a crime.

A spokesman for Choi, the Ramsey County attorney, said prosecutors reviewed the case, including forensic evidence, and couldn’t prove that a sexual assault took place.

Jennifer said she decided to speak out in the hope that it would help others find justice.

“It’s not something I can easily talk about,” Jennifer said. “But if my story can drive any sort of change … if it can prevent this from happening to anyone else, then that’s why I’m here.”