Minn. woman's story leads Franken to push for sexual assault bill

Abby Honold had trouble getting police to pay attention to her rape case.
Abby Honold was raped as a junior at the University of Minnesota, and had trouble getting police to pay attention to her case. Sen. Al Franken is sponsoring legislation to train first responders on how to interview possible victims of sexual assault,
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News 2017

Abby Honold and Sen. Al Franken are connected by a terrible circumstance. She was raped by a man who had interned for the Democratic senator.

The man went to prison, and Honold went to Franken for help in making sure other victims wouldn't go through the ordeal she did after reporting the crime.

At her urging, he's now pushing a bill in the Senate that seeks to establish federal grants for special law enforcement training that would focus on how first responders or investigators interview possible victims.

Honold's traumatic experience as a 19-year-old revealed how those initial interactions can be difficult on both sides and sometimes impede a successful prosecution. She said police at first didn't believe her account after she gave fragmented answers and struggled to go in chronological order as the detective wanted.

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"I felt myself mentally shutting down and not wanting to talk about it anymore," she recalled. "I just wanted it to be over and I just wanted to go home."

A forensic nurse who did a rape evaluation broke through by getting Honold to reflect on what she smelled, tasted, heard and felt. It triggered details she had been unconsciously suppressing. The technique is known as a forensic experiential trauma interview.

"As a police officer you'll have to have an understanding that sometimes a victim will come back to you later and say 'I remember this. I remember this,' or 'I couldn't remember at the time,' and that's because of the trauma they dealt with during that situation," said former police detective Beth Roberts.

Roberts is working with the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault to build a state training program. It's possible because of a $110,000 grant administered by the state's Office of Justice Programs. Several law enforcement agencies are signed up for the free courses that begin next month.

Franken's bill would build on that work to make training available to police and first responders around the country. The senator acknowledged he felt an extra obligation to Honold because of the circumstances.

Honold, now 22, has been speaking out in hopes of helping other sexual assault victims. She looks back on that first meeting with Franken and how she came in with low expectations.

"I was shocked," she said. "I totally thought I would get ignored."