2019 Legislative Rundown and Looking to the Future
A Message from the Founder: Changes Still Needed, We Will Still Fight for Victims
by KiloMarie Granda, Unspoken Voices Founder
My name is KiloMarie Granda. I am the Founding and Executive Director of Unspoken Voices. I am a partner, a mother, an advocate, and a survivor — what I believe defines and shapes me in many ways. “What a pity”, some might say, “to let your sexual assault define you and who you become”. On the contrary, I am a proud survivor and proud to use my voice in creating change. Over the last five years I, along with Unspoken Voices, have demonstrated the power of using our voices to help raise awareness about power-based violence, unhealthy cultural perceptions, and legislative gaps that do not protect or serve survivors.
At times, I feel like I am screaming into the void — pounding my fists against locked doors, hitting my head against barred windows — my voice isn’t being heard. For a survivor, I think there is nothing worse, nothing more crippling, than the loss of control over our own being. In my case and so many of those voices I hear crying out, that was and continues to be true. I started Unspoken Voices, an organization to give those individuals a sense of power and healing.
Through the work of survivors, allies, and those in the field, we have started to see some of the societal perceptions about sexual assault slowly change, but it wasn’t until this last year that I began to feel that changes were happening at the state level. As a result of a 2018 Star Tribune series “Denied Justice”, a series that I was privileged to be featured in, survivors voices were given the proper platform to finally be heard; the catalyst for effective change.
The Star Tribune analyzed near 1500 reports of sexual assaults filed all across the state in just 2015 and 2016. The results, startling, but only to those who aren’t surrounded in the efforts for positive change: “The files show repeated lapses in basic police work, including failing to interview victims, failing to visit crime scenes and failing to question suspects or witnesses. Of cases reviewed by the Star Tribune, only one in four was ever sent to a prosecutor. And when police did forward cases for prosecution, some 80 percent never resulted in the filing of criminal charges--even in cases with DNA evidence, confessions, or multiple victims.” From all the data reported by the Star Tribune’s investigation, they deduced that only one out of every ten sexual assaults reviewed resulted in a conviction (Tribune, From Their Stories, Reform Emerges, 2018). Full article here.
Last week, Minnesota lawmakers introduced the first set of bills that could reform how officials including police, prosecutors, and judges handle the cases. Senator Limmer, head of the committee for these bills, is calling for bipartisan rape reform legislation quoted here, “We in the legislature are not turning a blind eye to these needs. I want to put a spotlight on this (Tribune, Minnesota state lawmaker calls for bipartisan rape reform legislation, 2019)”.
The first of these bills will encourage and possibly mandate state training reforms that will improve the quality of sexual assault investigations across the state. The new state rules outline a victim-centered approach to these under-reported crimes, emphasizing that investigators need to understand how trauma affects victims. The stated goal is to improve the victim’s experience “so that more people are encouraged to report.”
The new policy states:
• Investigators should question suspects in person when possible and run criminal history checks on them
• Responding officers should seek out and attempt to interview any witnesses or those with whom the victim discussed the assault
• Detectives should use nontraditional, “trauma-informed” techniques when interviewing victims and consider following up after a few days to see if they recall more details (in line with these trauma-informed techniques)
• Supervisors should monitor the progress of each investigation
The recommendations are “a solid first step,” says Lindsay Brice, law and policy director at the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, a prominent advocacy group. However, they’re not the solution to the problems highlighted by the Star Tribune series, “Denied Justice.”
“This is merely one piece as we move forward toward a world that finds sexual violence unacceptable,” Brice continued (Tribune, Minnesota police board approves the state's first sexual assault policy, 2019)”. Full article available here
The second of these bills would call for the creation of a working committee to make changes to the Minnesota criminal sexual conduct statutes that would make it easier to prosecute these crimes. “The attorney general shall invite representatives from city and county prosecuting agencies, statewide crime victim coalitions, the Minnesota judicial branch, the Minnesota Board of Public Defense, the Department of Public Safety, state and local law enforcement agencies, and other interested parties to participate in the working group. The working group must review, assess, and make specific recommendations with regard to substantive and technical amendments to Minnesota Statutes, sections 609.341 to 609.353, and any other laws that relate to sex offenses and sex offenders. (Moller, 2019)”.
I had the opportunity to personally speak to the Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Senate Committee on Tuesday, January 29th, 2019. In these talks I assured the need for trauma informed interviewing practices by law enforcement as well as prosecutors and judges as there is a vital need for training in the neuroscience and psychology behind trauma and how it affects victims. I drew the parallels briefly to a bill I authored in 2015 which would allow victims of Criminal Sexual Conduct, pursuant to MN Statutes 609.342; 609.343; 609.344; 609.345; and in certain cases, where repeat offenses have occured, 609;3451, would have a right to an impartial review of the criminal sexual conduct case in which a county attorney decided not to prosecute the case or to terminate proceedings. Taping of this is available here.
The following Thursday, January 31st, I spoke to the Minnesota House of Representatives Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Division about the need for the new POST standards (mentioned above), to be mandated across the state and I urged that these standards need to be upheld by prosecutors as well. I felt it pertinent to also express the need for culturally specific training. We cannot truly expect to offer a trauma informed approach if we do not take a person’s cultural identity (i.e., ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc.) into account. We cannot expect to meet the victims where they are if we have no idea where that place is. In many cases, including mine, rape is a direct result of being queer. It was a form of “corrective rape”, in which the assailant commits the assault in attempt to change the sexuality or another cultural ideal held by the victim. The law enforcement and prosecutor in my case did not take this into consideration and failed to address my specific needs, instead using these factors against me. Taping of this is available here.
I insisted that marginalized communities have specific needs requiring address throughout the investigative and prosecutorial process. Specific training on various ways that victims react to sexual assault, including Tonic Immobility, a temporary state of motor inhibition believed to be a response to situations involving extreme fear, must be integrated into our official’s investigations.
Finally, I urged that throughout this process, victims are involved. Moving forward, survivors need to be heard on the committees and working boards. We must be represented. Our voices must be heard. I concluded my speech by stating that there should be “nothing about us, without us.”
But this is only the beginning. Over the next several weeks, I am excited to meet with Senator Limmer, of the Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee as well as with Representative Moeller, the individual who has chosen to bravely step forward and author these bills. I have also been asked to testify at an upcoming House of Representatives Government Operations Committee regarding the barriers that prevent so many survivors from reporting.
I am so thankful for the voices of fellow survivors and for the amazing work that they do each day. Without their actions, we would not be seeing the change this all will bring.
Moller, R. (2019). CRIMINAL SEXUAL CONDUCT STATUTORY REFORM WORKING GROUP.
Tribune, S. (2018). From Their Stories, Reform Emerges.
Tribune, S. (2019). Minnesota police board approves the state's first sexual assault policy.
Tribune, S. (2019). Minnesota state lawmaker calls for bipartisan rape reform legislation.