In the summer of 2015, a woman named Amber Mansfield filed a report with the Minneapolis Police Department. She said she’d been beaten, choked, and raped by a man named Keith Washington.
Washington had been released from prison that spring as a Level 3 sex offender -- considered the most dangerous and most likely to reoffend. By December, he would be charged with assaulting two women in Uptown on the same night. He was never questioned about raping Mansfield. She never heard anything from the police.
Thanks to an investigation by the Star Tribune, we now know why. Mansfield’s case had never been assigned an investigator, a collaborative podcast between the Strib and WCCO Radio revealed Wednesday.
Lt. Mike Sauro, a retired police officer, was in charge of the sex crimes unit when Mansfield filed her report. When asked about why her case was ignored, he was blunt.
“You know what, on the scale of victims, she’s not at the top,” Sauro said on the podcast.
Mansfield had a few strikes against her, Sauro said. She had battled addiction, and the struggles that came with it. She had a previous conviction of prostitution. In the past, he said, she had been romantically involved with her accused rapist.
“She’s had a problematic life since she was 10, if not since she was born,” Sauro said. “Sometimes victims have to take responsibility for their decisions and their actions.”
The Minneapolis Police Department did not respond to requests for comment from City Pages.
“I read that quote and it was a shot straight through my heart,” Wendy Jones says. She’s executive director of the Minnesota Recovery Connection, a statewide nonprofit that assists people recovering from addiction. Jones, who’s in long-term recovery herself, says MRC routinely sees dismissive attitudes toward people with substance abuse issues.
“There’s a misconception about addiction -- that it’s a choice,” Jones says, adding that addiction is medically defined as a chronic disease, like asthma or diabetes. “We see this unconscious bias where people see a substance use disorder and treat it as an indicator of bad character.”
That bias plays into attackers’ hands, according to Leah Lutz, a specialist with the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
“They often target victims with vulnerabilities as a way to minimize their credibility in the criminal justice system,” Lutz says. Sauro’s quote didn’t surprise her. Her job at the St. Paul nonprofit is to help the criminal justice system better address sexual assault; she’s currently trying to reshape how officers conduct interviews and perceive victims.
“We have to start believing them and start treating their cases as valid,” Lutz says, rejecting the notion of a “scale of victims.”
There are only those who receive help, she says, and those who don’t.