The Minneapolis Star Tribune released another article in the series Denied Justice, in which more of Minnesota’s victims/survivors of sexual assault courageously shared their experiences about the lack of prosecution in their sexual assault cases. As previously stated the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault was not surprised by these victims/survivors’ experiences; these stories and others are echoed by victims/survivors across the state. Every single day, in every county across the state of Minnesota, our member programs support and walk with victims/survivors just like those profiled in the Star Tribune. As a community, we have let them down. We are sorry. We must do better.
What can you do to improve the system?
- Prosecutors and investigators: get training and technical assistance. MNCASA/Sexual Violence Justice Institute at MNCASA (SVJI), Aequitas, and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) are just a few options for training and technical assistance. There are many free resources, training programs, and educational materials available to police, prosecutors, and criminal justice professionals free of charge.
- Encourage prosecutors to adopt victim-centered processes and decision making, while de-emphasizing conviction rates as a sole measure of success. The American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice standards indicate that a prosecutor should only file criminal charges if they have a reasonable belief “that admissible evidence will be sufficient to support a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt, and that the decision to charge is in the interests of justice.” It is unfortunate that this is often interpreted as only those cases in which success in court is expected.
- Vote. Learn about how local prosecutors, judges, and law enforcement handle sexual assault cases and support candidates who emphasize victim/survivor centered policies.
- Educate yourself and your community – the decision to convict often lies in a jury’s hands. Educate that potential jury pool.
- You have the power to challenge and change harmful social norms; as well as contribute to safe and equitable environments. There are many small every day actions you can take to reduce sexual violence. MNCASA has many resources available for how to prevent sexual violence in your community. Go to www.mncasa.org/prevention-resources for more information on what you, as an individual, can do in your community. Now is a time for critical actions and conversations, which will lead to positive community change.
MNCASA believes that policy, community based advocacy, sexual assault prevention education, outreach, and training will improve community responses to sexual assault, abuse, and harassment. We are currently working with Minnesota prosecutors to improve the statutes they use to hold sexual assault offenders accountable, with the Attorney General’s Taskforce to evaluate the system, and with the POST Board to improve policy, training, and accountability within law enforcement.
Statewide sexual assault policies, training, and accountability at every level of the system is necessary to ensure a victim/survivor-centered, trauma-informed response. We know that sexual assaults are underreported and that the majority of perpetrators will walk free. What can we do to encourage survivors to come forward?
- Start By Believing. If a victim experiences negative or judgmental reactions upon disclosing sexual assault, they are less likely to ever disclose again. Negative experiences also deter victims from seeking further help. We must all start by believing and supporting victims/survivors when they disclose.
- Stop prosecuting victims/survivors when there was also unlawful use of alcohol or controlled substances. This summer, a victim/survivor in Minnesota reported her rape and was charged with underage drinking. This is unacceptable.
- MNCASA is working with Minnesota prosecutors to clarify consent particularly in cases that also involve alcohol or controlled substances. Minnesota’s consent statute too often results in failure to prosecute.
We support victims/survivors and hope that the Star Tribune series will continue to elevate the conversation around sexual violence. For more information on how to get involved, go to www.mncasa.org. If you are a victim/survivor in search of community based advocacy, visit rapehelpmn.org to find an agency near you. Services are free and confidential.
For over 40 years, the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MNCASA) has provided leadership and resources for sexual assault programs and allies to prevent sexual violence while promoting a comprehensive, socially just response for all victims/survivors. We support, convene, and collaborate with sexual assault programs, advocates, prosecutors, and law enforcement officers to promote a more victim-centered response to sexual violence, and increase effective criminal justice. We believe sexism, racism, heterosexism, classism, oppression of people with disabilities, religious oppression, and ageism are among the root causes of sexual violence. MNCASA is committed to challenging and changing institutions, issues, practices and policies that promote these systems of oppression.