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Issue Date: January 2014 Issue


Most Interesting People 2014: Rachel Dissell

Rachel Dissell

PLAIN DEALER REPORTER, 34

Why she's interesting: Dissell's investigation of the vast backlog of unprocessed Ohio rape kits, along with fellow reporter Leila Atassi, is proof that real investigative journalism still exists in Cleveland, despite this summer's layoffs at The Plain Dealer. Also a professor at Kent State University, Dissell is willing to tackle the big issues head-on — it's more than commendable, it's refreshing.

Kick in the Butt: A typically rebellious high school teen, Dissell got into journalism when her social studies teacher threatened to flunk her unless she wrote an article for the school paper. "When I was in class, I would argue, but I clearly wasn't completely engaged. I had a lot of other things on my mind. He really pushed me." When she interviewed the principal, she realized she could ask him anything. The light switched on.

Couldn't stay away: After college, Dissell worked for the Daily News-Record in Virginia, but realized she was hankering for her hometown. She got a job with The Plain Dealer in 2002. "If I want to make a difference, I want it to be in my hometown, where I'm from, where I get what's going on in a different way than people did before me."

Quest for Justice: Dissell and Atassi stumbled upon the rape kit story. While working on a separate story, they realized that their police public information officer didn't know what happened to rape kits. So they followed their curiosity. It led to a massive project, exposing police negligence in rape investigations and a vast backlog of 4,000 unprocessed kits stretching back 20 years. Due to Dissell's reporting, the kits are being processed, police are being held accountable and, finally, rapists are being put behind bars. "It wasn't that someone set out with an agenda to treat sexual assault victims badly, it's that it wasn't a priority."

Nuts and Bolts: When she writes, she writes. No purple prose here. Dissell's articles are straightforward newswriting, despite emotionally trying and occasionally gruesome subject matter. "I'll drink beer and eat food — I don't need to write about them."

Blowing off Steam: With her 3-year-old son and 9-year-old niece at home, plus another child on the way, Dissell finds solace in escaping from work with cooking, bike rides and trips to the park and library. And homework — grading her students' and helping with her kids' homework. "The most seemingly boring things are small joys when you're busy."

Live well: Her Tremont house, shared with her husband, Tim Harrison, was featured on the DIY Network show House Crashers. To her surprise, she's recognized on the street from the show more than her work with The Plain Dealer. "That was a half-hour TV show! Not the most important thing I've ever done. But it's a good avenue for getting in conversations with people."


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