A new federal law named for a Minnesota rape survivor establishes a grant program supporting trauma-informed trainings at police departments to improve law enforcement response to sexual assault cases.
The "Abby Honold Act" instructs the Department of Justice to create a program that awards competitive grants to law enforcement agencies that implement trauma-informed, victim-centered techniques when responding to and investigating domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.
"To be able to take by far the worst thing that ever happened to me in my life and to be able to make something out of that—even if one survivor is helped by this it would be worth it," Honold said.
Honold was raped in 2014 by another student while attending the University of Minnesota. She said she called 911 for help, but the response that followed only intensified her pain: The police officer dispatched wasn't trained on how to handle a case like hers with care, and she recalled that he interpreted her behavior like she was lying or trying to cover something up.
But a nurse who knew how to handle the trauma she experienced asked the right questions and made Honold feel comfortable recounting the horrifying experience.
"She had trauma-informed training, the training we are trying to get into the hands of law enforcement," Honold said. "Without her participation that day, I don't know if my rapist would've gone to prison."
"If I had received a caring response from the beginning, I think a lot of that trauma would've been lessened for sure," she added.
Honold fought for years after the attack to ensure better police response for other survivors, working with Minnesota elected officials in Congress to enact change.
The provisions from the bill in her name were included in the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act signed into law in March.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Mendota Chief of Police Kelly McCarthy, Honold and other survivor advocates celebrated its passage in St. Paul Friday.
"The victims and survivors of these crimes show incredible courage coming forward and we must treat them with the utmost respect in the investigative process," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who pushed for the bipartisan legislation in the Senate with GOP U.S. Rep Tom Emmer, who represents Minnesota's Sixth District, in the House.
McCarthy, who also is chair of the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training, said the legislation will have a ripple effect in Minnesota, where the POST Board model policy is that law enforcement "respond in a way that's victim-centered," which she called a "pretty low bar."
"Government is at its best when it makes the right thing to do the easy thing to do and we can all agree that the right thing to do is to get survivors the trauma informed care they deserve," she said. "We're one step closer to having that training and making it easier for departments to have that."
A 2018 Star Tribune investigation found sexual assault cases in Minnesota are investigated poorly or not at all, and that most of the cases were never forwarded to prosecutors for criminal charges.
Klobuchar said funding for the program will be determined at the end of the year and that departments could see the grants in the next few years. Not every law enforcement agency or community organization will receive federal funds, she said, but its passage sends a message and establishes best practices.
"Sometimes when you actually pass a bill like this—the grants matter because certain departments will get it, the states will get it, but also what matters is Congress has put its weight behind doing it," said Klobuchar.