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‘Survivors must lead the way’ to sex crime law reform

Asma Mohammed of Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment testifies Jan. 31 in the House public safety division on a bill to create a working group to recommend statutory changes to the state’s criminal sexual conduct laws. Photo by Paul Battaglia

Victims of criminal sexual assault shared with lawmakers on Thursday how some state laws as currently written have allowed their attackers to go free.

For example, Cheri Townsend, a Hennepin County prosecutor, detailed how loopholes and contradictory language in state laws outlining sex crimes against children have prevented cases from being prosecuted.

She was one of several people who testified in support of HF418, which would establish a working group to review and make recommendations to reform the state’s laws on criminal sex offenses.

Public safety division hears HF418

The House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Division approved the bill and sent it to the House Ways and Means Committee with a recommendation to re-refer it to the House Government Operations Committee. There is no Senate companion.

Sponsored by Rep. Kelly Moller (DFL-Shoreview), the proposal would direct the public safety commissioner to convene a working group “to review, assess, and make specific recommendations with regard to substantive and technical amendments to Minnesota Statutes … and any other laws that relate to sex offenses and sex offenders.” A report would be due to the Legislature by Jan. 15, 2020.

The working group would include city and county prosecutors; public defenders; and representatives from the state judicial branch, law enforcement agencies, statewide crime victim coalitions and other interested parties.

Asma Mohammed testified that she was assaulted 15 years ago, when she was just 12 years old. She kept silent about that assault until she finally had the courage to tell her story publicly last December.

Mohammed, advocacy director of Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment, said that since then, five women in the Muslim community told her the same man also assaulted them. Because the assaults happened after the statute of limitations expired, Mohammed said she and those five other women have no way to seek justice. 

“That man thrived off of our silence,” she said. “Survivors must lead the way.”

Moller said that one task of the working group would be to re-examine the statute of limitations for sex crimes, precisely because experience shows that many victims cannot speak about their trauma for many years.

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