In November 2014, I was raped.
I’m certainly not the only one something this awful has happened to, but afterward, I felt as though I was. I was a 19-year-old college student. My life changed overnight. I faced an incredibly long fight to bring my attacker to justice: Daniel Drill-Mellum was wealthy, well-connected, and willing to throw me and my reputation under the bus. The #MeToo culture I’ve seen develop publicly over the last month wasn’t around to help me then. I was nearly harassed off the University of Minnesota campus for reporting. I was turned away by the Minneapolis Police Department despite the mountain of evidence in my case.
Over the next two years, I learned how to hold my frustration in, because I had an end goal in mind. I knew that my attacker belonged in prison, and I was determined to get the justice system on my side. I made mental notes about everything that was going wrong. I tried to have patience that someday I could make a different world. When my rapist was sentenced in August 2016 to six years in prison, I finally had my chance.
I sought help from Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.). He took up my cause without hesitation, and he worked with his aides to draft legislation to pay for training to help police departments treat assault survivors with more concern for what we’ve been through. But now that allegations have come out that Franken himself assaulted a woman years ago, I want another lawmaker to sponsor the bill we worked so hard on. This work deserves to be led by those without a history of sexual harassment or assault.
The news this week was especially disappointing for me because of how effective an advocate Franken has been for my cause. I felt my heart sink when I saw the news, but I was prepared to support the woman involved. I remember what it was like to be shamed and not believed.
When I first contacted Franken’s office, I thought getting him involved was a long shot. The man who had raped me had interned for him, and I was hoping that the personal connection would help get his attention. To my surprise, Franken’s office scheduled a meeting within a few weeks, and I was given a whole hour to talk about all of the things that I wanted to change about how the authorities handle rape. At the top of my list was how I was interviewed by police.
I called 911 immediately after I was raped. The Minneapolis detective assigned to my case was not only openly disrespectful, but also dismissive of my testimony. He kept stopping me from sharing details, then getting frustrated with me for not sticking to chronological order. After our interview, I felt completely withdrawn and defeated. I had been so uncomfortable with him that I ended up unintentionally shutting down, withholding information that would later turn out to be crucial to prosecuting my attacker. The nurse who performed my exam at the hospital, on the other hand, got absolutely every detail out of me. As soon as I was alone in the room with her, my whole mood changed. She asked what I smelled, heard and tasted; I could feel the details flowing out with every question. She wrote pages and pages of my experience into her notes and documented every physical mark that I had. Her exam reinvigorated the detective’s interest in prosecuting my case.
As soon as I told Franken about my experience, he showed incredible interest in this part of my story, and he asked what I would change about it. I told him that I wanted law enforcement to be trained with the same type of program that my nurse had gone through. Over the next year, his office worked with me to craft legislation to do just that. The focus of our bill was to provide funding for grants for trauma-informed trainings for law enforcement. I met some absolutely amazing women who worked for Franken’s office and put an extraordinary amount of care into this bill. I could barely contain my excitement when we announced it together in October; it was the first truly positive thing to have come out of the worst experience of my life.
But my overwhelmingly positive experiences with Franken do not negate what Leeann Tweeden went through.
I can appreciate everything that Franken did for me without encouraging what he did to her. I will not reject Franken’s support for my work, which was truly important; without him, there might be no bill in response to my story. But I also won’t allow this legislation to be defeated because of this week’s news. I am committed to keeping the work on track and finding a woman in the Senate to lead the efforts.
There is nothing more important to me at this moment than being able to help prevent anyone else from going through what I did with law enforcement, and I want to be able to do it as soon as possible. I want to shift my disappointment with Franken into a sense of gratitude for every amazing woman and survivor of sexual assault that I’ve been blessed to meet along the way. And I still have faith that we are starting to shift the culture around sexual assault and harassment, and that we can create a society that stands up for the vulnerable.