May 16, 2019
Jennifer Bjorhus, Brandon Stahl and MaryJo Webster
Star Tribune Report on How Minnesota's Criminal Justice System has Failed Victims of Sexual Assault

In 2014, a University of Minnesota undergraduate named Abby Honold was raped at an off-campus apartment by a fellow student. Minneapolis police arrested the suspect, but released him a few days later. It would take a year before an investigator from another police department picked up Honold’s case and helped bring her rapist to justice.

In reporting that story, Star Tribune reporters heard from several law enforcement sources that sexual assault investigations in Minnesota deserved further scrutiny.

Over the past year, the Star Tribune has examined more than 1,400 rape and sexual assault case files from the 20 law enforcement agencies across Minnesota that reported the highest number of sexual assault reports to the FBI.

Using a public-records request, reporters obtained every rape report from 2015 and 2016 that Minneapolis and St. Paul police departments considered closed. For the other agencies, the Star Tribune examined a random sample from the same years.

A reporter or editor read each of the files, screening out any cases that involved children or incest, were deemed unfounded by police, or that remain under investigation. We logged key details from the cases, such as whether there was physical evidence; whether suspects or witnesses were interviewed, and whether charges were ever filed.

In assessing those case files, the reporters relied on best-practice investigative guidelines developed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and an advocacy group called End Violence Against Women International. The reporters also attended a two-day law enforcement seminar about investigating sexual assault. We also asked 13 veteran investigators and prosecutors from across the United States to review and comment on more than 160 of the Minnesota cases.

In addition to the case files, reporters and editors examined hundreds of pages of court records and police documents and interviewed more than 100 assault survivors, sex crimes investigators, jurists, women’s advocates and academic researchers. Rape survivors were identified in these stories only if they specifically agreed to the use of their names for publication.

Three of the reporters who wrote the series for the Star Tribune will share the process with our group, and what changes have occurred since the series was published in July 2018.

Go here for links to the series and additional information.