Abby Honold Act: Another Name, Another Bad Law

Abby Honold was raped. We know this because her rapist was convicted upon a plea of guilty and sentenced to 74 months, although the mere fact of a conviction happening was far more a testament to Honold’s fortitude than either a system that worked or police who gave a damn.

Guy Hamilton-Smith describes the disconnect that nearly ended any chance Honold’s rapist would be prosecuted, and threatened her with prosecution for pursuing her cause.

Three days later, the Minneapolis Police detective in charge of the investigation told Honold over the phone that he was dumping her case, warning her that if she tried to get it re-opened, she could find herself charged for making false allegations. Drill-Mellum was released, and the charges were dropped.

At issue was the existence of a recording made by Drill-Mellum’s fraternity brothers. They got Honold on the phone the day after the rape, and according to their account, she said over the phone the sex was consensual.

It took Honold another two years, a parallel investigation by the University, an attorney of her own, and two more women to go on record as saying that Drill-Mellum attacked them as well before charges were forthcoming from the Hennepin County Attorney’s office.

What happened in Abby Honold’s case serves as a lead-in to an enormously complicated problem, both systemic and individual, that has been reduced to its most simplistic elements and obscured by a trendy, but false, narrative.

Most rape goes unreported to authorities. According to most recent data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, fewer than one out of four rapes are reported.

The data backs this up provided one isn’t a slave to any legal definition of rape and finds putative victims self-reporting close enough for data. That’s the start of a series of assumptions that spirals into the narrative.

Corey Yung, a law professor who has studied these problems told me that “when police fail to investigate rape cases, that discourages reporting of rape. The decision to not report is then used to discredit rape victims. When rape victims lose credibility that is used as an excuse to not investigate rape cases. And so on. Right now, many police departments do not take rape complaints seriously and victims are often aware of that fact. The result is that rapists, in many jurisdictions, are free to continue to victimize with little threat of law enforcement intervention.”

A vicious cycle or a simplistic narrative? Maybe a little of both. It fails to distinguish between stranger-rape and date-rape, between forcible rape and post-hoc regret rape, between victims dissuaded from reporting and “victims” who only decided their consensual sex was rape months or years later.

Rape is a heinous offense that must be taken seriously, and yet the seriousness it deserves is undermined both by the police and by advocates who can’t understand why a woman who initiated sex, but decided the next day that her having had a few beers turns her fully consensual conduct into rape, isn’t treated the same as a woman being beaten and forcibly raped in a dark alley. Cops need to do better. So do advocates.

In the case of Abby Honold, the key factor appeared to be one police officer’s acceptance of representation that a telephone recording had her admitting sex was consensual. The cop never bothered to listen to the recording. It wasn’t true. The cop was lazy, biased against her, antagonistic to her claims and threatening. This is hardly unique.

But the “solution” bearing the name “Abby Honold” isn’t the answer.

Enter the Abby Honold Act. Introduced in both the federal House and Senate, it establishes training programs for law enforcement and other agencies that respond to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The Act’s main impetus is to foster the implementation of trauma-informed responses to such cases by way of establishing grants for training.

The “trauma-informed” training to be promoted isn’t based on science or empiricism, but the narrative.

The Forensic Experiential Trauma Interivew, or FETI, is credited as being the key that unlocked the prosecution of Daniel Drill-Mellum, and is amongst the training programs that is poised to benefit from the legislation.

The creator of FETI, Russell Strand, isn’t a scientist, and yet expounds upon the “neurobiology of trauma.” The problem is that it’s without basis.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, FETI appears to have never been subject to empirical testing according to its website. In a 2015 report to the United States Armed Services Committee, the United States Air Force declined to adopt FETI as its interview technique, citing the reports of several psychiatrists who evaluated FETI and found mutliple problems with it.

In Honold’s case, the contention is that a nurse who was more sensitive to her feelings than the cop, made Honold more comfortable to “share” her information.

Honold said the nurse was able to not only document her physical injuries, but also get information that she wasn’t comfortable sharing with police.

“If the nurse who’d come in had not been so welcoming and kind, and had asked things in a way that made sense to me at the time, it’s hard to know what ever would have happened with my case,” Honold said.

Insensitivity can certainly be a counterproductive investigatory method, but as Guy notes, this had nothing to do with the reason Honold’s case was dropped. Rather, the Abby Honold Act elevates a “holistic” narrative into the panoply of pseudo-scientific beliefs. Remember what happened? Guilty. Forget what happened? Guilty. Give conflicting information? Guilty. Prompt complaint? Guilty. Delayed complaint? Guilty. Investigate the facts rather than blindly accept the “survivor’s” story? Unacceptable.

Proponents of the Abby Honold Act* seek to institutionalize the narrative, with the gloss of junk science, into law. To challenge it is to open oneself up to being denigrated as a rape apologist, a misogynist. After all, who would be so devoid of humanity to question a victim like Abby Honold?

The mission of reforming police practices to make them more effective and sensitive to the realities of rape and those harmed by it is an unassailable good. To do so by undermining a commitment to evidence-based practices and the rights of the accused is not to ameliorate tragedy, but — as our history has shown — threatens only to compound it with different kinds.

The irony is that as we oppose junk science in the courtroom in some instances, we invite new junk science in others because of the transitory trendy narratives. What happened to Abby Honold was horrible. So too is the Abby Honold Act, a grossly misguided effort to promote the establishment of a pseudo-scientific narrative designed to undermine the facts, and the rights of the accused. It’s just the new flavor of junk science hiding behind the name of victim.

*By attaching a name to the law, the Ted Franks Rule has been invoked.

5 thoughts on “Abby Honold Act: Another Name, Another Bad Law

  1. B. McLeod

    Well, something must be done! Harrumph! Apparently, the best they could come up with was this FETI-ish thing.

  2. Svetoslav Shterev

    > The cop was lazy, biased against her, antagonistic to her claims and threatening.

    It strikes me that none of these things are really remedied by “training”, which is what the law offers.

    1. SHG Post author

      Training could well have made a difference in addressing the cop’s bias and antagonism toward Honold, but not the training promoted by the law. What would have certainly made a difference is better hiring and supervision, so that lazy cops aren’t on the force being lazy, biased and antagonistic.

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