SAINT PAUL, Minn. – Tuesday, the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance & Policy Committee held a public hearing on Sheyla’s Law, legislation authored by Rep. Kelly Moller (DFL – Shoreview) to strengthen justice for members of the Minnesota National Guard who experience sexual assault at the hands of another Guard member. The bill transfers investigations of sexual assault where the victim and the accused are both members of the Guard to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
The bill is named for Specialist Sheyla Scholl, a constituent of Rep. Moller who attempted to report a sexual assault that occurred at the hands of another Guard member on the night of her Advanced Individual Training graduation in 2016. She was initially discouraged from reporting the incident by local law enforcement, but followed through with the report over a year later when encouraged to do so by another survivor of the same perpetrator. The investigation lasted two and a half years, taking a significant toll on herself and her family.
“After talking to Sheyla and other survivors, it’s clear the inconsistencies of investigations at the local level creates challenges for survivors themselves and for the investigation by the military that follows,” Rep. Moller said. “This bill helps improve justice by both streamlining the investigation process while addressing the unique issues involving rank and position of authority within the military. I’m incredibly grateful for the bravery from Sheyla and the other survivors to push for the necessary changes this bipartisan legislation makes.”
In 2019, the Guard convened a review board to thoroughly examine all facets of Minnesota’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program and culture, including solutions to improve reporting. Last year, the review board issued a series of findings and recommendations, including standardized reporting and criminal investigatory authority, and that the BCA act as the investigative agency for Guard members for sexual assault investigations.
Donald Kerr, Executive Director of the Minnesota Department of Military Affairs, and John Thompson, Sexual Assault Response Coordinator for the Minnesota National Guard, both spoke in favor of the legislation. Two other members of the Minnesota National Guard who are sexual assault survivors, Bonnie Daniels and Sara Kostek, shared their experiences reporting the assaults and their difficulties with the investigative process that followed.
Tuesday’s public hearing was one of several scheduled in the House Public Safety Committee this week focused on advocacy of sexual assault survivors. The committee laid the bill over for possible inclusion in a larger package of public safety legislation.