St. Paul, MN – Around the world there are millions of survivors of sexual assault and sexual violence, and for many of them, their stories go unheard and are rarely believed. In the U.S., nearly 1 in 5 women have been raped or have gone through an attempted rape during their lifetime. Ali, a sexual assault survivor in Minnesota whose rapist took a video of her passed out before assaulting her, shared her story and video evidence with Unicorn Riot. Her story comes out at a time when Minnesota has made new changes to sexual assault laws.
CONTENT ADVISORY: DESCRIPTIONS AND VIDEO OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE
In March 2019, Ali was sexually assaulted by a coworker while she was at his house. As she slept motionless on his bed, the perpetrator took an eleven-second video of her. Ali’s eyes can be seen briefly opening halfway and then closing. Her assaulter used his hands to open her mouth as he spoke for her in the video and said, in a mocking high-pitched voice,
“Are you sure, you consent? I consent. Ya know, my name is Ali, and I love [****], he my man forever and we gon’ do it like it never been done before.“– Perpretrator’s voice heard on video of sexual assault against Ali
Earlier that night, Ali went out for drinks with some coworkers and then ended up at a house where two coworkers lived. She was exhausted and fell asleep fully clothed on top of the perpetrator’s bed covers. Her next memory was waking up naked, looking at a condom wrapper that was in the middle of the floor, and seeing the man getting ready for their shared 1 p.m. work shift.
The man who assaulted her was twenty years older than her and was in a position of authority at her job. She worked the same shift as him and chose to get ready for work over attempting to figure out what happened.
“I almost didn’t allow myself to really think about [getting raped] too much at first … for plenty of weird subconscious reasons, along with the fact of like, I’m running late for work, I can unpack this, if I want to, at my desk. I just need to focus on not losing my job.”– Ali, sexual assault survivor
While attempting to process what happened, Ali said she had a text conversation with the man who assaulted her and he sent her the video and said “you were so cute last night.” While he admitted to having sexual intercourse without her consent, Ali said he “challenged [her] away from the narrative of what actually happened” and said to her, “So what, am I a rapist now?“
Initially, Ali expressed hesitation in reporting the rape to authorities, mostly because of the unlikeliness of a conviction. However, a week later, she went to the police station and spoke to an investigator to ask if she had a case. She showed the investigator the video and said she saw his “pupils dilate” when watching it. He told her she had a case and asked if she wanted them to investigate. She said with all that was going on in her life at that moment, she didn’t feel like she had it in her to be the one to hold her rapist accountable, so she told them no.
“Ultimately this man’s actions were not my obligation, you know, I can’t hold myself accountable for this man’s actions. That’s A) what he is supposed to do, and B) what the law is supposed to follow up on if he doesn’t.“– Ali, sexual assault survivor
Ali quit her job a short time later and then received the news that her rapist had assaulted another co-worker in August 2019. This prompted Ali to reach back out to the police to ask them to move forward on the investigation into her assault in hopes that it would assist the other person’s case against him. It didn’t, and the assault case against the newer victim was dropped.
“Apparently, sexual assault is currently some intricate lock that only one key fits as far as evidence goes.“– Ali, sexual assault survivor
Fourteen months after the investigation into her assault started and 571 days after the sexual assault on Ali, Dakota County prosecutors pressed charges against her rapist. The man was charged with criminal sexual conduct in the 5th degree and his next court date is on September 23, 2021. Furthermore, he was on probation at the time of the assault from being in and out of federal prison for the last few years, and that night he assaulted Ali he had been booked for a DWI charge and released.
“You have video evidence, both of the intent as well as my inability to provide consent, or keep my eyes open. Fuck. Unfortunately, it’s not about proving intent. The way that the laws are currently written, it’s about proving that it happened.
This form of crime is expected to have the same proof of evidence about something that is deliberately done in private. And the burden of the proof isn’t on the investigator necessarily. It’s it’s on the survivor… especially with this video, it’s like being punched in the middle of a busy street and no one acknowledging that it happened or believing you that it happened.“– Ali, sexual assault survivor
Legislative Changes on Sexual Violence
Laws have historically been written in ways that make it difficult for victims and survivors of sexual violence to hold their assailants accountable. The high requirements to get serious charges placed against an assaulter and the low probability that the charges will lead to a conviction are two reasons, among many others, why survivors don’t report their assaults to the authorities.
In some good news for survivors, recent legislative reforms to sexual assault laws in Minnesota may allow a better chance for survivors to receive justice within the judicial system. Some of the reforms and statute amendments brought forth with House bill HF707 (pdf), authored by Rep. Kelly Moller (DFL-42A), and its Senate companion bill SF1683 (pdf), authored by Sen. David Senjem (R-25), that were placed into the HF 63, 2021 1st Special Session safety bill, include:
- Redefining what “mentally incapacitated” means and effectively closing the ‘intoxication loophole‘ which was allowing offenders to escape culpability for sexual violence.
- Granting more rights to vulnerable minors and adults and less restrictions when charging perpetrators.
- Redefining the statutes of criminal sexual conduct in each of the degrees (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th) and enhancing the ability to charge felonies.
- Creating a new charge called sexual extortion and adding that to the list of dangerous sex offenses.
Appropriations related to sexual violence in the budget are highlighted by the creation of the Task Force on Missing and Murdered African American Women, and the establishment of the Office of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives. This is especially important, as Black and Indigenous people are disproportionately affected by sexual assault and face heavy deterrents in reporting those assaults to the police. Appropriations and changes for the 2022 and 2023 years include:
- Creation of the Task Force on Missing and Murdered African American Women ($100,000 first year and $50,000 second year to implement the task force).
- Establishing and maintaining the Office of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives (Two years at $500,000 each year).
- National Guard sexual assault investigation (Two years at $160,000 each year to investigate allegations of criminal sexual conduct filed against members of the Minnesota National Guard by another member).
- Grants to combat sex trafficking (Two years at $250,000 each year for an anti-trafficking investigation coordinator and expanding existing strategies).
- Survivor support and prevention grants (Two years at $400,00 each year for victim survivors and unmet needs impacting victims of sexual violence).
- Funding for domestic violence programs to improve retention (Two years at $150,000 each year to develop a trauma-informed violence prevention pilot project).
- Elimination of the statute of limitations for sexual assault cases where no DNA evidence exists, helping victims of child sexual abuse.
After the reforms were passed, Ali said it’s a “huge win” and she “hopes other states demand changes to their sexual assault laws.” Although positive news, she says society has work to do in “changing the narrative on sexual assault.”
“It is a huge win for Minnesota to finally see sexual assault law change within the recent public safety bill, but as long as juries and societies alike still operate under the impression that rape isn’t rape because the onus is on the victim to prevent being raped, survivors will continue to remain silenced and these laws won’t have an opportunity to be utilized in the first place.
I hope other states demand changes to their sexual assault laws, and I hope we all continue to work towards changing the narrative on sexual assault as a whole.”– Ali, sexual assault survivor
Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MNCASA), an advocacy group for survivors, said the reforms aren’t enough and that more work was needed “to address the root cause and impact of sexual violence.”
“Survivors of sexual violence deserve better and expect more from systems that have been task with proving safety, justice, and we can do better. We know that the majority of sexual assaults are not reported to the police, let alone prosecuted or tried. There must be more work done to address the root cause and impact of sexual violence – and it’s going to include all of us.”– Statement by MNCASA – Criminal Sexual Conduct Statutory Reform – 2021 Updates – Coalition Against Sexual Assault & Rape in MN that Trains Advocates
For anyone facing violence, assault, or abuse, or needing immediate assistance, resources for education, resources for advocates, therapy, or your local community programs, you can visit RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, or call their sexual assault hotline at 800-656-HOPE.
There are many organizations throughout the Twin Cities and nationally that are providing support services for survivors and victims of sexual violence. Four of the many include: the Sexual Violence Center (SVC) which offers an option on their website that allows survivors to quickly reach out for support, MNCASA with many resources, Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition and Confederation of Somali Community of Minnesota.
There are common questions that survivors and victims have when it comes to reporting an assault and does one have to report a crime to get a rape exam. Organizations like RAINN help provide answers: “You may choose to have a sexual assault forensic exam, sometimes known as a ‘rape kit,’ to preserve possible DNA evidence and receive important medical care. You don’t have to report the crime to have an exam, but the process gives you the chance to safely store evidence should you decide to report at a later time.”
As laws get rewritten, Ali said it’s important that society listens and believes survivors and has a real discussion around what consent means as sexual assault has become such a “large-scale public safety issue.“
“To any survivors reading this: You are seen, you are valid, your story matters.
To those who are not survivors, this fight is not just about the survivors ‘seeing justice.’ Until significant changes are made both legally and culturally, our communities will remain home to the countless rapists and offenders who are also aware of the unlikelihood of being caught, charged, and certainly convicted for their actions.
This is a large-scale public safety issue that requires the community’s involvement and unity in sexual assault prevention. As long as many individuals still hold the [inaccurate] stance that sexual assault is entirely preventable by the victim, we are all failing each other.”– Ali, survivor of sexual assault
UPDATE – SEPTEMBER 23, 2021: The perpetrator who assaulted Ali accepted a plea bargain for Criminal Sexual Conduct in the 5th Degree (Nonconsensual Sexual Contact). The deal allows for the perp to execute his sentence with time served, meaning he doesn’t have probation and won’t serve jail time. He was sentenced to 365 days in jail but was given time served after receiving credit from a recent prison stint he did for a separate drug sentence. His deal also means he won’t have to register as a sexual predator or charged with rape.
“I wish I had time and space to process and grieve this ending, but it has been 926 days since he raped me. The world moved on then and is moving on now, I have to, too. I tried.
I didn’t even consider the possibility that he could walk away with less than the already bullshit plea bargain of two years probation.”