Star Tribune

Law enforcement agencies will be eligible for federal grants to improve how they investigate sexual assault cases, under legislation named for a former University of Minnesota student and spearheaded by Minnesota lawmakers.

The Abby Honold Act, signed into law Tuesday by President Joe Biden as part of a $1.5 trillion budget bill, establishes a two-year test program for police training on trauma-informed investigations into sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.

Following her rape by a fellow U student in 2014, Honold spent years fighting first for justice in her own case, and then to ensure that what happened to her didn't happen to anyone else.

"I am so grateful to finally see a conclusion here, and really a new beginning, I feel like, for so many people," Honold, 27, said in an interview Wednesday. "I want other survivors to be able to get the absolute best treatment that they can, from the very beginning."

Co-sponsors of the bipartisan legislation — years in the making — include U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, who represents Minnesota's Sixth District.

Though Honold immediately reported the sexual assault and went to the hospital for an exam, she said the Minneapolis police investigator assigned to the case treated her disrespectfully. Her rapist, Daniel Drill-Mellum, was not charged until an investigator from another agency took up the case and found other victims.

"I think people hear my story and they think to themselves, 'Oh my gosh, that detective that interviewed her — what a rude person,' " Honold said. "And maybe, but I think that he didn't have the training that he needed. He didn't have trauma-informed training, and so the whole experience for me reporting, from the very beginning, I always wonder what would have been different if he had been taught what trauma looks like."

Drill-Mellum pleaded guilty in 2016 to two counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct and was sentenced to six years in prison.

Honold said she believes Drill-Mellum never would have gone to prison if it hadn't been for the nurse who conducted her sexual assault exam and interviewed her using trauma-informed questions that brought back specific, detailed memories.

The Abby Honold Act requires the Department of Justice to award grants to law enforcement agencies that provide training on trauma-informed investigative techniques that improve communication between victims and law enforcement and avoid re-traumatizing victims.

In an interview, Klobuchar said, "what happened to Abby should never happen to anyone again."

"She as a young woman came forward and said, 'I want to see a change,'" Klobuchar said. "That's why we put together this bill that would really get best practices in place when it came to how law enforcement handles sexual assault and trauma-informed cases."

A 2018 Star Tribune investigation that included a review of more than 1,000 sexual assault cases found that about 75% were never forwarded to prosecutors for criminal charges. Fewer than one in 10 reports of sexual assault led to a conviction, records showed.

"Sexual assault is a life-shattering event, the trauma of which can be compounded by improper care," Emmer said in a statement. "The Abby Honold Act will equip first responders with valuable healing tools and give a voice to survivors."