Representative Marion O’Neill (GOP, District 29B, Maple Lake) got involved in drafting new Minnesota legislation after a young girl “was denied justice for her assault was she was just thirteen years old,” O’Neill says. Her 2019 bill, Hannah’s Law, called for eliminating the statute of limitations that prevented someone from reporting an assault after a certain amount of time had passed.
As a prosecutor newly elected to the legislature, Representative Kelly Moller (DFL, District 42A, Shoreview) was aware that O’Neill was working on policy change. “I reached out to her after I was elected and said I would like to work together in a bipartisan manner,” Moller says. “We developed a partnership and friendship in working on issues to achieve justice for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.”
Simultaneously, Asma Mohammed and Sarah Super, as volunteer lobbyists, began to pursue changes to sexual assault law. Both were survivors who connected over a desire to change policies. In Mohammed’s case, she was assaulted when she was 12 and had only six years to report that trauma if she wanted to pursue criminal charges.
“Sarah shared with me her hope to eliminate the statute of limitations, which I had not known much about. I was personally impacted by the statute and still did not know that the law existed until she told me about it,” says Mohammed, advocacy director of Reviving Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment. “Sarah said it was a lofty goal to eliminate the statute, but I told her I had a friend at the legislature who could help.”
In the meantime, Moller supported O’Neill’s 2020 bill, which requires all rape kit samples to be tested, establishes a database to track the status of testing, and appropriates funds to hire additional lab scientists. Yet there were many details remaining in Minnesota’s statutes that did not reflect an understanding of trauma.
A team of prosecutors, legislators, advocates, and survivors — including Mohammed and Super — worked together for years to examine old wordings and suggest new ones.
Revised wording to criminal sexual conduct statutes was included in the Public Safety Omnibus Bill, which was signed into law on June 30, 2021 and took effect on September 15.
- Closes the loophole that prevented victims from charging someone who assaulted them if they were unable to give consent because they were voluntarily intoxicated;
- Creates the crime of sexual extortion, punishing someone for forcing a person to have sex by threatening to, for example, report the person to immigration authorities, evict them from housing, or terminate employment;
- Ensures certain relationship-related offenses are included, even if they are not directly considered in positions of “authority,” such as educators and students, or those involving a perpetrator who is dating a victim’s parent.
A Minnesota Supreme Court case became nationally publicized in March 2021. After that, movement on revising statute wording moved forward more quickly in the legislature.
The case involved Francois Momolu Khalil, who was convicted of third-degree criminal sexual misconduct for raping someone after she left a bar intoxicated. His conviction was overturned because, according to existing statute, he was not accountable since he did not personally drug her or give her alcohol.
Moller says that the national attention for this Minnesota case helped them establish a sense of urgency to pass the bill this year. “After the Khalil decision,” she says, “we had many more legislators sign on to the bill as coauthors.”
Sexual assault and domestic violence are treated differently from other crimes, since skepticism that the victim is lying is common, Moller says. “I have seen it in court and at the legislature. The myth about false allegations created some hurdles to our bill, but the strong testimony from survivors, and the egregious facts of the Khalil decision, helped us to overcome that.”
“I think that ensuring justice for assault survivors is a priority for everyone. It just doesn’t always get the attention it deserves,” O’Neill says.
O’Neill and Moller worked with more than 100 survivors, advocates, law enforcement officers, and others in crafting the legislation.
“We are also a part of another working group to look at potential reforms to the Predatory Offender Registry, which is one of the final portions of the bill that was passed,” O’Neill adds. “We are looking at how it functions, who is on it, how long they are on it, and who should be on it. We will have a report ready for the full legislature by the time we go back into session on January 30.”
Though this legislation will allow survivors to report their assault at any point in their lives, and to have the choice to report it if it is helpful to their own healing, Mohammed points out that this legislation is not retroactive, meaning it only impacts those who experience sexual violence on or after September 15, 2021. “If I could change anything about this bill, I would make it retroactive,” she says.
Action = Change
Asma Mohammed says more people need to listen to survivors. “There have been numerous occasions in which my ideas have been shut down by people who don’t understand the pain of sexual violence,” she says. Letting survivors lead the work helps to avoid creating more harm.
Mohammed adds that more people need to get involved in advocacy. “My hope is that survivors join us at the capitol to demand more accountability as we enter another session.”
Rep. Kelly Moller says, “I am a strong supporter of the ERA, and I would love to see some movement on that.” She encourages people to support passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in Minnesota. eramn.org
Says Rep. Marion O’Neill: “If anyone you know has experienced sexual violence and are not getting justice, contact your state legislator and local victims’ advocacy group, which can be found at mncasa.org
Even with these new changes, victims are hesitant to report, and some county attorneys are declining to file charges against perpetrators. Both men and women should educate themselves about the new law, including where the line is with affirmative consent, the new definitions of sex crimes, and how crucial a sexual assault exam is to receive justice.”
To see Judiciary hearings in action, see the video discussion of the proposed wording changes on April 7, 6:37pm, and April 8, 1:03pm: tinyurl.com/MNAssaultHearings