The Minneapolis Police Department adopted a new sexual assault reporting policy last month, mirroring similar efforts on campus.
The policy prevents MPD officers from citing sexual assault reporters for underage drinking, drug use or other minor offenses. The University of Minnesota Police Department adopted similar policies last year, while Minnesota Student Association representatives are currently working with lawmakers to push a medical amnesty bill through the state legislature.
The policy change follows recommendations issued last December to law enforcement agencies across the state by the Minnesota attorney general’s office.
“MPD’s new best practice policies will be survivor centered and help guide us from response through investigations,” said MPD Chief Medaria Arradondo in a statement.
Although MPD protocol already complied with many of the attorney general’s recommendations, the new policies solidify what’s already practiced, said Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. Frey said he believes formalizing the policy will help encourage victims to come forward to law enforcement.
“Our hope is that by formalizing this as an official city policy, more people can report without worrying about an underage drinking citation and feel comfortable doing so,” Frey said.
UMPD does not pursue alcohol or drug charges on sexual assault reporters. The department adopted medical amnesty for sexual assault survivors in January 2018.
MSA representatives are working at the state Legislature to pass a medical amnesty policy statewide this legislative session after failing to do so last year. Meara Cline, chair of MSA’s Sexual Assault Task Force, said the new MPD policies will strengthen efforts to enact similar measures at the state level.
“We believe that it’s not a protection that only students on our campus should have, but it’s a protection anyone should have,” Cline said. “Medical attention and reporting comes first. It’s a top priority.”
Amber Powell, a University Ph.D. student who studies sexual violence, said the MPD policies and legislative efforts could help change the dynamics of sexual assault reporting for victims and police.
“I think [the policy is] really powerful in terms of getting people to come forward because there’s so many myths out there about alcohol and sexual assault,” Powell said. “Many victims are blaming themselves if they’re drinking. We also know that law enforcement officers when alcohol is involved are less likely to keep up with the investigation and more likely to blame the victim.”
The efforts come as reports of sexual assaults have increased on campus since 2015, according to a report released earlier this year.
Frey said the policy change is an important measure in changing the stigma around sexual assault for students.
“Unfortunately, an unacceptably high proportion of college students are sexually assaulted,” Frey said. “So, one of the many things that needs to happen to change that is we need to make sure survivors feel safe when they report. That’s why we’re making it official MPD policy.”