Rachel Dissell’s bold investigative journalism for The Plain Dealer, examining Cleveland’s response to sexual assault and the impacts of trauma on survivors, has led to changes in laws, policies, and public perceptions. Her investigative series with reporter Leila Atassi led to the testing of nearly 14,000 rape kits and the investigations of decades-old cases that followed. Since then, nearly 800 defendants in Cleveland have been indicted in previously unprosecuted rape cases. Ms. Dissell drew on these many experiences and her in-depth expertise to contribute to End Violence Against Women International’s online training module Untested Evidence and the Investigation of Cold Sexual Assault Cases.
In 2019, Ms. Dissell co-authored Case Closed with fellow journalist Andrea Simakis. The series explored systemic failures of Cleveland police through the experience of a woman who had to solve her own rape. The series won the 2020 Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma. Ms. Dissell was also honored in 2015 with a prestigious Ochberg Fellowship from the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, where she benefitted from extensive training in the neurobiology of trauma and trauma-informed interviewing, as well as storytelling techniques and ethics. She also participated in the research and development of two groundbreaking documentary films: I Am Evidence, which focused on the problem of untested sexual assault evidence, and Roll Red Roll, which appeared on PBS and examined the Steubenville rape case.
In April 2011, Ms. Dissell was recognized with End Violence Against Women International’s first-ever Excellence in Media Award, honoring her achievement of the highest standards of quality in investigative journalism and accurately portraying the dynamics of sexual violence and the devastating impact on victims.
Ms. Dissell credits EVAWI with providing opportunities to learn more deeply about the work that advocates, nurses, police and prosecutors do to improve the response to gender-based violence and the chance to share what she has learned about how to tell stories that point out problems and raise up solutions that can make communities safer.
Her relentless efforts have instigated system-level reforms across the nation in the way we respond to sexual assault. We are proud to recognize Rachel Dissell as a Champion of Change.