For 20 years, Shoreview resident Kelly Moller has worked in the courtroom trenches as an attorney supporting victims of sexual assault who are brave enough to speak up — and she hopes the #MeToo movement of 2017 will continue to encourage victims to report the awful truth.
“It is really about speaking up to put an end to the abuse, not only to yourself but for other victims,” said Moller, an appellate prosecutor with the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office.
Few victims report sexual assaults due to the skepticism, blaming and shaming they receive, she noted. Many victims avoid reporting because the perpetrator is not a stranger. It is also not uncommon for victims to delay reporting due to humiliation and trauma.
Moller said she thinks the #MeToo movement will help victims have more courage to report sexual assaults, as well as sexual harassment, leading to change within the legal system and in public dialogue.
The #MeToo movement of 2017 went viral this fall when victims began using the hashtag on social media to share experiences of sexual assault or harassment. The phrase had been used by social activist Tarana Burke for about a decade but was popularized by actress Alyssa Milano. Milano encouraged victims to publicize how widespread sexual misconduct really is in the wake of allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein this fall when actress Ashley Judd went on the record in the New York Times.
Millions of people have since come forward. Many public figures face allegations, including Sen. Al Franken, who resigned Dec. 7 amid numerous allegations. Time magazine named the movement’s “Silence Breakers” — among them, celebrities, professionals, hotel workers and agricultural workers — its 2017 Person of the Year Dec. 6.
Standing beside those brave enough to break the silence is nothing new for Moller, who considers the victims she works with inspirational and heroic. She said her “hero” is a woman who shared a victim statement in court recently that she said could be used to encourage other victims to speak up. The woman, who was raped at gunpoint, detailed the humiliation she went through during the assault and afterward, including the hospital exam and waiting for a ride home in a pair of gray hospital sweatpants because her clothes were kept as evidence.
Moller works on behalf of the state on felony-level cases in which the defendant has been convicted by a county district court and is appealing that ruling; many are sexual assault cases. She presents arguments before a panel of judges in the Minnesota Court of Appeals or Minnesota Supreme Court in the Minnesota Judicial Center, next to the State Capitol.
By the time a case reaches that level, it has already been investigated by law enforcement, probable cause has been determined through charges filed by a prosecutor with the county attorney’s office and a jury has found the defendant guilty.
There is often no physical evidence to prove a sexual assault happened, Moller said. Instead, testimony and the pasts of both the defendant and victim are scrutinized. False reporting of sexual assaults by victims is very low, according to the conclusions of the courts.
“So often these cases come down between the credibility of the victim and defendant,” Moller noted.
Throughout the process, the privacy of victims is often invaded by a defense attorney, she said. Defense attorneys request psychological records, school records and other generally private information to see if they can use a victim’s past dishonesty to acquit their defendant. Sometimes, such information is not even admissible in court. When a judge allows it, victims are subjected to further violation of their privacy.
“You report a crime and suddenly your whole life is an open book,” Moller said. For victims of sexual assault, this can hamper their recovery. Victims may begin to withhold information from a therapist due to fear it could be disclosed later.
“In an age of HIPPA and medical privacy, it is shocking to me that courts are not fully considering a victim’s privacy rights,” Moller noted.
As a tireless advocate for victim privacy, Moller has been recognized for her work on the issue by the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Many of the cases she works on affect future case law, she noted.
While a student in business at the University of Notre Dame, Moller decided to become an attorney after listening to stories of friends who had been sexually assaulted while they were growing up. She went straight on to law school instead of pursuing a career with her business degree.
While she encourages victims to report assaults to law enforcement, she also said victims should make the decision that feels right to them.
“None of my friends reported,” she said. “There is no shame in not reporting. … Make the decision that is right for you.” For those who choose not to report, as well as those who do, the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault & Rape (MNCASA) provides resources for victims.
Moller has also worked for the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office and was executive director of the Minnesota Alliance on Crime. In her spare time, she has taught youth faith, internet and personal safety classes at St. Odilia Catholic Church.
She has lived in Shoreview for 20 years and is on Shoreview’s public safety committee. She and her husband Kevin have two sons in Mounds View Public Schools; she is also a member of the district’s curriculum advisory committee.