Sexual assault working group convenes for first meeting

Goal is to make recommendations to lawmakers following Star Tribune's reports on systemic failures

Sloane Martin
September 18, 2018 - 2:01 pm

The first meeting of a working group convened by state Attorney General Lori Swanson met Tuesday, bringing together diverse perspective with a common goal: to suggest concrete changes in how state laws address rape and sexual assault cases before the next legislative session begins in early 2019. 

The group, which includes prosecutors, law enforcement officials, medical experts and victims advocates,  was convened in the wake of the Star Tribune investigative series "Denied Justice," which looked at how the criminal justice system fails victims of rape and sexual assault. 

"The mission of this group is to develop legislative and policy recommendations that are going to improve law enforcement responses to sexual assaults," deputy attorney general David Voigt said.

"Denied Justice" revealed problems in the investigative process, from lapses in evidence collection to inadequate victim sensitivity to the absence of specific training. 

Swanson, in her final months as attorney general, says she’s confident the group can make an impact, even if the discussions have been ongoing.

"I think the newspaper series and WCCO podcasts on the series really have brought to bear a lot of focus on an issue that, in some cases, hasn't been a new issue," she said. "It certainly created a focus that I think creates a sense of urgency."

They got right to work today discussing the role of advocacy: how organizations are under-funded and fueled by passionate volunteers; how to make systems responsive to all victims; and what goes into becoming a victims' advocate.

Members are able to bring in speakers from their area of expertise in order to better inform the rest of the group. Voigt also said the POST Board, which is examining a new model policy of its own, and the BCA have offered to be resources. Organizers said they want to keep legislative leaders in the loop.

The group will be meeting every two weeks at the capitol.

Former Minneapolis city council president and registered nurse Barb Johnson is heading the committee. Other members are: Nicole Matthews, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Woman's Sexual Assault Coalition; Dr. Carolyn Porta, the University of Minnesota School of Nursing's Global Health director with experience as a sexual assault nurse examiner; Dr. Mark Hudson, medical director at Midwest Children's Resource Center; Chief Paul Schnell of the Inver Grove Heights Police Department; Paul Young, chief attorney of the criminal division of the Anoka County Attorney's Office; Lisa Lovering, Isanti County Sheriff's Office sex crime investigator and chief deputy; Teri Walker McLaughlin, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault; Elizabeth Richards, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women; St. Paul Police Sgt. Nichole Sipes, a veteran sex crimes investigator.

Follow the Denied Justice Podcast here