Sexual assault investigation overhaul

The Ramsey County Attorney said a new study shows the need to overhaul how sexual assaults are investigated. 

The “Start by Believing” campaign was created two years ago to transform the way people respond to sexual assault. At the same time a review of hundreds of rape and sexual abuse cases was launched. 

“We live in a culture that in so many ways—intentionally and unintentionally supports a culture of rape,” said Jim McDonough, Ramsey County Board Chair. 

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said the findings in the study create a baseline of what is working and what needs to be improved when a sexual assault victim seeks help. 

646 cases were reviewed from six east metro police agencies between 2013-2016. The study found at least two-thirds of the investigations are never presented to prosecutors or reviewed, and barely 11 percent are eventually charged. 

“Interestingly every case that went to trial all resulted in a conviction,” said Choi. “I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing. What it means is probably we really need to think about what kind of cases we are charging and should we be taking additional chances.” 

The study also points out the large number of victims who drop their cases for a variety of reasons—from long wait times, lack of trust, to overloaded investigators. 

“Last year our sex crimes investigators each handled 300 cases,” said Chief Todd Axtell, St. Paul Police Chief. 

St. Paul Police will be immediately adding two new sex crimes investigators. Public Health is adding two new advocates. There will also be training and collaboration for every step a victim takes, from reporting the sexual assault, to the hospital, to community resources, to court proceedings. 

“We are preparing ourselves to ensure that you have the safest environment to come forward and talk about the most traumatic event that could ever happen to you,” said McDonough.

Funding for the new positions will come from the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office criminal forfeiture account and allocated from the county board.