What the hell is going on in Missoula, Montana? The U.S. Justice Department reports over 80 alleged rapes in Missoula over the last three years. Even more troubling, at least 11 in an 18 month period involved University of Montana students. It's pretty crazy that it took nearly one hundred allegations of sexual assault to convince the Justice Department to look into the situation, but at least they're finally paying serious attention and launching an official investigation into the handling of sexual assault cases by the Missoula Police Department, the Missoula County Attorney's Office and the University of Montana.
The investigation will focus on gender discrimination, since the women involved have long been saying that the Police Department and County Attorney's Office handled their cases unprofessionally. For example, according to the Missoulian, Police Chief Mark Muir told a number of assaulted women that prosecuting rape cases was "challenging" and that research showed a high incidence of false reports in sexual assault cases. Just what you want to hear from your local police force! Other women who claimed to be drugged and raped were told that there wasn't enough evidence to prosecute; we guess the cops didn't want to deal with the "challenges" that would ensue.
This is just the tip of the iceberg: the federal Department of Education is also evaluating a separate complaint claiming harassment by members of the University of Montana Grizzlies football team, which names UM, the Grizzlies football team, former President George Dennison, and a number of other administration members. Who knows what they'll uncover in the months to come.
"The allegations that the University of Montana, the local police department and the County Attorney's Office failed to adequately address sexual assaults are very disturbing," Attorney General Eric Holder said. Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg said at a press conference yesterday that he had "no reason to believe that in particular the Missoula police dept has in any way violated anyone's constitutional rights" and that "he has no idea what triggered this investigation." Um, seriously? He deserves to be fired for that statement alone.
We'll keep reporting on this story as it develops. If you live in Missoula or know anything about what's going on there and want to talk about it, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image via Campus Inn Missoula.