Rachel Dissell was a reporter for The Plain Dealer from 2002 until 2020. Her investigative pieces have changed laws, policies, hearts and minds.
Reinvestigating Rape, a series with reporter Leila Atassi, led to the testing of nearly 14,000 rape kits and investigations that resulted in indictments in nearly 800 cold cases in Cleveland. Researchers built on the project’s early discoveries to redefine the understanding of serial rape in Ohio and beyond. Toxic Neglect, a series with colleague Brie Zeltner, exposed Cleveland’s poor track record for investigating when children were lead poisoned. The series sparked a communitywide effort to proactively protect children from the toxin, including a grassroots citizen petition drive and the formation of a coalition of more than 300 public, private and philanthropic partners who worked to pass a law that requires all rental homes in the city to be inspected for lead hazards.
In 2019, Case Closed, a series with Andrea Simakis, explored the systemic failures of Cleveland police through the experience of a woman who had to solve her own rape. Dissell was a 2016 Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma Ochberg Fellow and has received training in the neurobiology of trauma and trauma-informed interviewing and storytelling techniques and ethics. Her series, Johanna: Facing Forward, won the 2008 Dart Award, and her story, Case Closed, won the 2020 Dart Award.
Dissell also has trained law enforcement, nurses and advocates and community groups for End Violence Against Women International and the National Center for Victims of Crime. She also has taught emerging journalists at her alma mater, Kent State University.
Recent Posts by Rachel Dissell
Story Ideas: Trauma Journalism in the Time of CoronavirusMay 13, 2020 by Rachel Dissell
How can journalists start thinking about aftermath when there is no end in sight?
Case ClosedApril 8, 2020 by Rachel Dissell, Andrea Simakis, Lynn Ischay, Ellen Stein Burbach, Kelley Benham French, Melodie Smith, Wendy Carr McManamon, Joel Downey
This multipart series focuses on rape survivor Sandi Fedor’s efforts to track down the serial rapist who attacked her as she discovers that her trust has been betrayed by the indifference of an historically under-resourced Cleveland Police sex crimes unit. Judges praised the team for “successfully intertwining a visceral survivor’s point of view narrative with traditional investigative reporting.” They said the series “meticulously documents with photographs, video clips, audio recordings, public records, police documents, and prior investigative reporting” a “pattern of systemic police department failure dating back decades” which “enabled serial offenders like the man who attacked Sandi Fedor to evade justice for years.” Originally published in the Plain Dealer on September 29, 2019.
Reinvestigating Rape: Old Evidence, New AnswersAugust 7, 2014 by Rachel Dissell
A growing number of communities across the country are wrestling with how to deal with rape kit backlogs. In this in-depth report, Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter and 2008 Dart Award Winner Rachel Dissell answers common questions about rape kit testing, and provides useful links, resources and questions that reporters can pose to authorities following the reopening of thousands of sexual assault cases nationwide. Click here for quick tips, and click here for the Plain Dealer's Reinvestigating Rape project, reported by Dissell and her colleague Leila Atassi.
Reinvestigating Rape: TipsAugust 7, 2014 by Rachel Dissell
In this tip sheet, Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter and 2008 Dart Award Winner Rachel Dissell offers advice for reporters on understanding forensic testing, crime laws, and how sexual violence can impact survivors and their communities. For the full report, click here. And click here for the Plain Dealer's Reinvestigating Rape project, reported by Dissell and her her colleague Leila Atassi.
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