ST. PAUL — Ramsey County will allocate more funds toward supporting victims of sexual assault.
Two new sexual assault advocates will be added to the Ramsey County Public Health Department to help support victims through the process of bringing their case to court, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said at a recent press conference. The Ramsey County Board plans to allocate $225,000 to fund the new positions.
The announcement was made in the wake of the release of a two-year Ramsey County sexual assault systems review, which studied sexual assault cases as part of Ramsey County's “Start by Believing” campaign and sexual assault justice initiative launched in 2016. The study authored by Assistant County Attorney Kaarin Long reviewed the ways the system could change to better support victims.
The study found through research of victim services agencies and law enforcement that many victims drop out of the court process.
“You will learn that victims oftentimes feel ashamed, embarrassed and might blame themselves,” Choi said. It is estimated about 20 percent of rapes are never reported.
For the Ramsey County study, several law enforcement agencies in Ramsey County reported information from certain types of sexual assault cases from 2013-2016. The cases mostly involved victims age 13 or older with a suspect who was not a relative, but did include spouses. Six law enforcement agencies participated in the study, including the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office.
In total, 646 assaults were documented, 110 of which were from the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office.
About two-thirds of sexual assault investigations performed by police agencies are never presented to the attorney's office for review, Choi said. Of the total 646 cases investigated in the study, about 11 percent of them were charged. The office charged 37 percent of cases presented and 73 percent received convictions. Every case that went to trial resulted in a conviction, Choi said.
A substantial number of victims have difficulty staying connected to the investigation, Choi said. Causes could include long waiting times and a lack of support for victims to stay engaged in the process.
The county hopes the new victim advocates will help more victims stay involved in the process. Funding of $287,000 is also being transferred from the county for two new sexual assault investigators in the St. Paul Police Department.
“I know we can realize better outcomes for victims of sexual assault and we will hold more perpetrators accountable,” Choi said.
The county currently has five sexual assault advocates. Its numbers will now be seven, said Anne Barry, Saint Paul and Ramsey County public health director. The county's SOS sexual violence services offers a 24/7 crisis line. Volunteers help on nights and weekends.
If you have experienced a sexual assault, call 651-266-1000.
The countywide campaign has reached out to college campuses and city councils across Ramsey County over the last two years to promote its message of taking sexual assault reports seriously.