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Our Opinion: Shedding a light on sexual assault

Shock, sadness, embarrassment, outrage.

Those four words come to mind after reading the Minneapolis Star Tribune's "Denied Justice" series, which kicked off July 22.

A Star Tribune review of more than 1,000 sexual assault cases, filed around the state in a recent two-year period, reveals chronic errors and investigative failings by Minnesota's largest law enforcement agencies, including those in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The newspapers findings included these sad stats:

• In almost a quarter of the cases, records show, police never assigned an investigator.

• In about one-third of them, the investigator never interviewed the victim.

• In half the cases, police failed to interview potential witnesses.

• Most of the cases — about 75 percent, including violent rapes by strangers — were never forwarded to prosecutors for criminal charges. Overall, fewer than one in 10 reported sexual assaults produced a conviction, records show.

In the following weeks, the Star Tribune followed up with several stories in the series detailing how rapists evade punishment, officials expressing outrage and promises of new laws to correct the problems, to name a few.

The reactions of shock, sadness, embarrassment, outrage should be felt by everyone. Shock that such violent crimes have been underinvestigated for such a long time. Sadness that victims not only have to go through the abuse and assault, but also in many cases find no justice. Embarrassment that for so long law enforcement has either willfully done an inadequate job when it comes to investigating rape, or lack the resources or direction to follow through. Outrage that it all has gone on for as long as it has.

We can do better. All of us. It's time that we start believing victims and taking these investigations seriously.

Hats off the the Star Tribune for the series. For far too long there's been a stigma attached sexual assault crimes—they're not talked about, pushed to the background or marginalized. It's time for victims to tell their stories, time for police to take them seriously and time for all of us to stop ignoring these crimes when they happen. This series is exactly this kind of journalism that will shine a light on such travesties and, hopefully, lead to meaningful change.

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