Legislature hears directly from three women who survived sexual assault by fellow soldiers while serving in the Minnesota National Guard.
ST PAUL, Minn – You were not taken seriously by the local law enforcement agencies and yet the military investigation lasted years and did not deliver the kind of justice it sought.
This was a shared topic among three women speaking with Minnesota lawmakers Tuesday about their sexual assault experiences as members of the Minnesota National Guard.
The survivors – Sheyla Scholl, Bonnie Daniels, and Sara Kostek – all spoke out in favor of a bill that would mandate the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to investigate sexual assault by one guard against another.
The Minnesota National Guard endorsed the bill and recommended such a change in a comprehensive report on the issue released in July 2020.
The report says that the military protocol investigating such crimes is not a good fit given the part-time guard duty. In fact, the average military investigation into a rape allegation takes two years.
“The survivors told me that the delays in the local level investigation hampered the military investigation and that the inconsistency between the local level investigations can also create challenges,” Shoreview Democrat Kelly Moller told colleagues on the committee during a hearing for public security of the house.
“It really represents so many of the survivors who have either shared their stories or who are living with this pain every day, and we want to improve this system for everyone.”
The bill received bilateral support in the committee and will be incorporated into the larger bus public safety bill later in this session. It was named “Sheyla’s Law” in honor of Sheyla Scholl.
“When I report on it, I have a goal on my back that I have to live with forever, but that is the cross that I will carry if it prevents others from carrying the same,” Scholl told the legislature .
She said she was attacked by another guard member in 2016 and originally gave up reporting. After hearing from a fellow victim, she finally decided to come forward, but the investigation dragged on for some time.
“By the time this investigation ended in mid-2019, I had given birth to my first child. I don’t remember any birth of my children because I asked for reassurance to make sure I couldn’t remember being touched by anyone to be.”
Sheyla, Bonnie and Sara spoke to the House Public Safety Committee earlier today about the sexual assault they had while serving in the MN National Guard. You testified in support of Rep. @KellyForUs’ law to use the BCA to investigate cases like this. Pic.twitter.com/aiGAsTeGPc
– John Croman (@JohnCroman) February 16, 2021
Scholl was one of 112 Minnesota National Guard members who reported sexual assault by a colleague between 2014 and 2019. Only nine of these cases resulted in criminal prosecution by local authorities. The Guard referred 22 of them to the US Army on what is known as a “complex investigation,” of which only nine were substantiated.
“It was almost a two-year trial,” said Sara Kostek, who in 2014 reported an attack by her first sergeant, who was then a senior member of her unit.
She said the Army brought in a team of Washington, DC investigators after local Morrison County authorities refused to get involved.
“The investigation resulted in an honorable discharge of my first sergeant. There was nothing on his file and he continued to serve as a police officer in his hometown.”
Bonnie Daniels said she was attacked by her sergeant major on a drilling weekend and was so traumatized by the incident that she felt suicidal.
“I blamed myself. I told myself things like it was my fault that I had a drink with him. I should have known better. Nobody really cares about me. Nobody will believe me. People. People think I’m overreacting. “Daniels recalled.
She said the investigation took two years to complete and the perpetrator to be discharged from the military.
John Thompson, the Minnesota National Guard’s Sex Assault Response coordinator, said the change will bring faster justice to everyone involved.
“Anything we can do to shorten the length of time would not only benefit the victims and survivors, but also benefit the organization,” said Thompson.
“It would also be of benefit to the perpetrators whose lives are being put on hold during the investigation.”
The committee chairman, Rep. Carlos Mariani, thanked all three women for the courage they showed to testify in support of the law. He assured everyone that they should be respected and never blame themselves for what happened to them.
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