SAINT PAUL, Minn. – Several state lawmakers today held a State Capitol news conference, launching a broad effort to deliver justice for victims and survivors of sexual assault and other gender-based crimes. This week, the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Division will hold “Gender-Based Violence Prevention Week,” a comprehensive effort over three days of hearings considering legislation to strengthen accountability and close loopholes in state law.
“Our committee’s effort this week recognizes that there are significant shortcomings throughout our system that have led too often to Minnesotans being failed when they’ve sought justice,” said Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL – Saint Paul), chair of the committee. “Victims and survivors of gender-based violence are to be valued, and as we work together to deliver better outcomes, I look forward to taking an approach centered on their needs.”
Two of the measures are championed by Rep. Kelly Moller (DFL – Shoreview), who is chief author of a bill requiring law enforcement agencies to adopt policies for sexual assault investigation cases, as well as one which would create a task force directed to rewrite the state’s entire criminal sexual conduct statute.
“It is critical that these Minnesotans are believed, listened to, and have the opportunity to see bad actors meaningfully held accountable,” said Rep. Moller, who also serves as a prosecutor. “It’s time for this issue to get the attention it deserves at the Legislature. We must ensure those responsible for investigating cases have the tools they need to ensure justice.”
Last year, the Minneapolis Star Tribune published “Denied Justice,” a nine-part series highlighting serious flaws in the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases. The series told the stories of victims who ran into roadblocks when seeking justice, and inconsistencies in policies, poor training, a lack of data, and weak sentencing recommendations.
Other measures include one from Rep. Zack Stephenson (DFL – Coon Rapids), chief author of HF 15, which would eliminate the voluntary relationship defense in the state’s criminal sexual conduct statute, also known as the marital rape exception.
"Minnesotans, no matter the type of relationship they are in, deserve to be safe,” Rep. Stephenson said. “It's time to bring our laws out of the 19th century and recognize that rape is rape no matter if you are married or not."
Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein (DFL – New Brighton) is renewing her effort to establish a new state task force to address the endemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Minnesota. There is currently no official state or national system in place to collect data on missing and murdered Native women.
“We can send a message that Minnesota will not let Indigenous women continue to vanish,” said Rep. Kunesh-Podein. “No one should wonder if their daughters, their sisters, their mothers and loved ones will return when they walk out the door. Native women are not a disposable community.”
Additionally, Rep. Kunesh-Podein is author of a bill to make non-consensual, intentional touching of another person's clothed buttock a part of the state’s criminal sexual conduct statute.
Advocacy organizations are also coming to the table to play a crucial role in the effort and joined lawmakers at the news conference. These groups include the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women (MCBW), Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MNCASA), and Reviving Sisterhood.
“Over three decades, we have witnessed almost 1,000 cases of domestic violence homicides in Minnesota. To keep these numbers from growing, we must believe victims,” said Katie Kramer, Policy Program Director for MCBW. “We must invest in resources, interventions and accountability measures that center the needs of victims, transform abusive behaviors and work towards preventing violence before it begins.”
“Sexual violence has been getting some overdue attention in the media lately,” said Hannah Laniado, MNCASA’s interim Executive Director. “Change is needed, and while it is urgent to address these issues and others not yet addressed by the media, we must take time to work alongside victims and survivors, community-based advocacy programs, and marginalized communities who are disproportionally affected by sexual assault to create solutions that work for all victims and survivors. When the law works for those most impacted by sexual violence, it will work for all.”
“In my job as a prosecutor, I have been deeply impacted by the stories and experiences of sexual assault survivors,” said Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (DFL – Roseville). “It is important that we support survivors as they seek healing and pursue justice. My hope is that together we can continue working towards meaningful change.”
Over the course of the week, other initiatives to be considered include those to review sentencing guidelines, broaden the definition of “position of authority,” and removing the statute of limitations for felony-level criminal sexual conduct offenses.
The panel meets at 12:45 p.m. today, Wednesday, and Thursday in room 120 of the State Capitol.