Denied Justice: 'I've been amazed at how quickly people want to judge the victim'

Star Tribune reporters tell Paul & Jordana about how the series started, what surprised them, and what's come as a result of the reporting

Paul and Jordana
December 13, 2018 - 6:08 pm

Jordana Green

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The Star Tribune has been running a series called “Denied Justice” which focused on problems with how sexual assault and rape cases are investigated and charged. As the series begins to wrap up, some of the reporters involved reflected on the process.

Brandon Stahl told Paul and Jordana the idea began to form when he reported on a rape case at the U of M.

“I started reporting on her story and learned two key things,” Stahl said, “One was that how she was treated by police and what happened in her case was not at all unusual. And this is according to advocates, even police themselves. What was unusual is that she got a conviction in the case. That was extraordinary I was told. And you hear these two things and you’re like, what in the world is going on?”

Mary Jo Webster talked about what surprised her over the course of their reporting.

“It was shocking to me how much I misunderstood about the nature of the crime,” she said, “how rare it is for women to ever report it to authorities, how traumatic it can be for the women and in a way that affect an investigation. Just every step of the way, I learned so much.”

Jennifer Bjorhus pointed to victim shaming as some of the saddest experiences they uncovered.

“I've been amazed at how quickly people want to judge the victim and judge the woman in every manner,” said Bjorhus, “what she was doing at the time, why she was with the guy in that room, where were her children, why didn’t she report right away – everybody wants to focus a lot of questions on the victim and it was very eye-opening to me how quickly that falls into victim blaming.”

As a result of their reporting, substantive changes have begun to happen.

“There’ve been some concrete changes at the Minneapolis Police Department. They’ve added one detective to their sex crimes unit. They said they want to add more, but they’ve added one,” Bjorhus said, “They have hired a sexual assault advocate to work full time. The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office has put a prosecutor in the Minneapolis Sex Crimes Unit and the University of Minnesota police department.”

Changes have also started on a statewide basis.

 “And then AG Lori Swanson convened her task force which is getting close to issuing their recommendations,” said Bjorhus, “And then the State Police Board has had two work groups that started looking at creating a statewide sexual assault investigation policy.”

Hear the entire interview with Paul and Jordana: