City aims to implement victim-centered sexual assault policies

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Minneapolis Police Department Chief Medaria Arradondo rolled out the new policies last week.

Sexual assault advocate Abby Honold speaks to a crowd on East Bank on April 18.

Chris Dang, Daily File Photo

Sexual assault advocate Abby Honold speaks to a crowd on East Bank on April 18.

by Miguel Octavio

A new policy aims to make sexual assault investigations in Minneapolis more victim-centered.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Minneapolis Police Department Chief Medaria Arradondo rolled out a new set of sexual assault policies for MPD last week, according to a press conference recorded by WCCO. Based on state recommendations, the policy incorporates guidelines for officers and investigators on how to best interview and support victims.

“Survivors experience unspeakable trauma,” Frey said at the press conference. “Honoring their bravery requires that we make every effort to ensure investigations are handled with compassion and ultimately guided by the goal of delivering justice.”

The policy is modeled after the attorney general’s task force’s recommendations and the Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training’s guidelines. Frey and Arradondo also collaborated with sexual assault survivors and advocacy groups like the Aurora Center for Advocacy & Education earlier this year to help inform the policies.

The new policy comes after a Star Tribune report exposed police misconduct in several sexual assault investigations and prosecutions state-wide last year.

One aspect of the guidelines is “trauma-informed” interview tactics for investigators. Frey said survivors should share details at their own pace in welcoming environments because trauma may affect memory. Investigators are also encouraged to follow-up with survivors.

A sexual assault survivor advocate helped train MPD officers about the trauma-informed approach. Frey also announced new protocols to collect evidence, interview witnesses and communicate with survivors more effectively to improve responsiveness.

Frey said investigators and elected officials must be held accountable for their work, but he recognized that understaffing can hinder the department. MPD receives more than 700 reports of rape every year with eight investigators to handle cases, Frey said.

“One of the leading indicators for the erosion of trust in our communities is when there are victims of crimes who know that their perpetrators are out there and our investigators do not have the resources or the case file attention to bring them to prosecution,” Arradondo said at the press conference.

Under the new policy, individuals reporting sexual assault would not face minor charges like underage drinking.

Supervisors must now also review the officers’ case work. Rape survivor and University of Minnesota graduate Abby Honold recalled her experience reporting her assault to officers, which she said was re-traumatizing.

“I felt angry for all the other victims of my rapist who did not feel comfortable reporting because they knew the kind of experience that I had,” Honold said at the press conference. “I’m happy that the stories of myself and other really, really brave survivors who have spoken out for change has made a difference.”

Honold also stressed the importance of access to advocates within MPD’s sex crime unit under the new policy.

Minnesota Student Association Sexual Assault Task Force Chair Meara Cline said the trauma-informed approach should not be limited to sexual assault survivors but include any victim of violence. She said the trauma-informed interview process may allow survivors of any form of relationship violence to disclose information they would otherwise not share with officers.

“There could be more opportunities for the person being interviewed to disclose about an incident involving sexual violence or sexual assault,” Cline said in an interview. “This approach would hopefully make them more comfortable.”