Law enforcement aims to strengthen survivor support in sex crime cases


Matt Hudson Ramsey County Attorney John Choi announced a reformed sexual assault response plan on April 4 at the Richard H. Rowan Public Safety Training Center in St. Paul. He was joined by area law enforcement officials and victim advocate professionals.

Criminal justice officials from across Ramsey County gathered in St. Paul on April 4 to announce new policies for dealing with sex crimes.

The guiding force behind the policies is a stronger focus on survivors of sexual assault and rape as they deal with law enforcement and prosecutors. Roseville Police Chief Rick Mathwig called it a “victim-centered, trauma-informed” approach during the announcement at the Richard H. Rowan Public Safety Training Center.

Though historically underreported, survivors of sex crimes are feeling more empowered to contact law enforcement or advocates about their trauma, said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi. Since 2015, his office has seen a 75% increase in those cases presented to them. More defendants are charged, and more convictions have come as a result.

“As more victims come forward to law enforcement, and more cases are presented, it is so critical for us in this community to get this right,” Choi said.

Attendees at the announcement event heard from multiple officials who head up the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, the sheriff’s office, county sexual violence services and area police departments. Police chiefs from New Brighton, Mounds View, Maplewood and St. Anthony were on hand as well.

The announcement came a day after Minneapolis officials unveiled a similar effort.

The response plan includes officer training and more resources devoted to sex crimes. St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell said that his department is adding more sex crimes investigators, and a commander has been assigned to oversee only those cases. Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher announced the addition of an investigator as well. Choi said that $750,000 in county funds have been directed to this effort.

Also included are plans to better track sexual assault cases and getting professional advocate resources to survivors as early as possible.

To that last point, Fletcher said that law enforcement has had to change. Before, he said that investigators rarely introduced assault advocates before interviewing survivors. And the interview style was more strictly focused on getting facts.

“We didn’t train compassion,” Fletcher said. “We didn’t train for support. What we trained is get all the information.”

Sarah Super spoke at the event about her experience as a rape survivor. In 2015, her ex-boyfriend broke into her apartment, waited for her and then raped her at knifepoint. She escaped, got to a neighbor’s home and called the police.

The process of reporting her rape put her in contact with so many people — police, a sexual assault nurse, the prosecutor, a victim witness, a victim advocate, a therapist, friends, family and others. Their responses to her story were either hurtful or healing, she said. Nothing in-between.

“There is no such thing as a neutral response to being raped,” Super said.

The process eventually helped in her healing process, she said. The man was sentenced to 12 years in prison. She said that it helped to validate her story.

“I could tell my story everywhere and be believed by everyone,” she said. “And by seeing the impact of my voice, I regained a sense that my voice matters. That I deserve to be treated with respect by all people at all times and that I can effect change.”

The response plan came about a year after a Ramsey County report highlighted shortcomings in how the criminal justice system handles sexual assault and rape survivors throughout investigations and prosecutions. The report called for more training and resources for law enforcement and victim advocates, among other recommendations.

 

–Matt Hudson can be reached at mhudson@lillienews.com or 651-748-7825.

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