Kirsten Pabst is running for County Attorney in Missoula, a town in Montana that was lovingly nicknamed "America's rape capital" in 2012, after the U.S. Department of Justice launched an official investigation into how Missoula County's Attorney office, police department and the University of Montana worked together to (mis)handle sexual assault cases. And, though she's running on a platform of "compassion for victims," she served as chief deputy to the current county attorney during the office's compassion-for-victims nadir. She also voluntarily testified on behalf of accused rapists in the past and kept a rather sketchy (now deleted) blog.
As Katie J.M. Baker notes at Buzzfeed, Pabst served as current embattled county attorney Fred Van Valkenburg's chief deputy from 2006 to 2012, a period in which the DOJ report later found that "women consistently told us that Deputy County Attorneys treated them with indifference or disrespect, and frequently made statements to women victims, advocates, and the public diminishing the seriousness of sexual violence and minimizing the culpability of those who commit it." According to the report, adult female victims of non-stranger sexual assault were often disrespected and revictimized by the reporting process; furthermore, the County Attorneys Office did not "provide Deputy County Attorneys with the basic knowledge and training about sexual assault necessary to effectively and impartially investigate and prosecute these cases."
This attitude is well evidenced by Pabst's old blog posts, which she scrubbed from the Internet but Buzzfeed managed to unearth. In a June 2012 post (one month after the DOJ probe was announced), she denounced the sexual assault crisis as an invention of reporters who just wanted to sell newspapers:
I'm calling for some check and balances within the journalism world. Specifically, I refer to the Missoulian's campaign to make the people of Missoula believe we are in the midst of a sexual crisis to frighten people into buying papers. Lots of papers. In so doing, our beloved hometown paper has so distorted the snapshot of the ways things are, that our collective feeling of community safety has been compromised. Without getting into inappropriate detail, I assure you that the foundation for the string of 'sexual scandal' articles is not based in fact…Sales are up. People are scared. Good job, Missoulian. In reality, this is just another Tuesday.
The DOJ investigation makes note of over 85 sexual assault cases, only 14 of which were investigated by the MCAO. Just another Tuesday, guys.
Maybe even more damningly, in a January 2012 interview with the Missoulian, Pabst discussed her unwillingness to file charges in sex crimes: "We have so much reverence for the fact that when we file sex charges against someone, it's going to ruin their life," she said. "Filing charges rings a bell that cannot be unrung." This is, perhaps, why she defended a University of Montana student who was accused of raping his classmate. The alleged victim testified that she took him back to her room and then decided that she didn't want to have sex with him. Later, she says, she awoke to him assaulting her.
Although a physical examination afterward showed injuries to the accuser's genitals, Pabst said that it was "his word against [hers] because alcohol was involved." And Pabst told the Missoulian, "If a victim agrees to have sex with someone, even if the experience was not as expected, it is probably not a crime. Consent is measured at the time, not in the morning. Feelings may change but facts don't change in the sunlight." (The alleged rapist was subsequently expelled.)
After she left the County Attorney's Office, Pabst went on to represent yet another accused rapist from University of Montana. Per Buzzfeed:
Pabst represented University of Montana quarterback Jordan Johnson in last year's highly publicized rape case. A fellow student had accused Johnson of raping her as the two watched a movie at her home; according to the Missoulian, trial testimony returned repeatedly to text messages sent by the woman moments after the incident: "Omg … I think I might have just gotten raped …. he kept pushing and pushing and I said no but he just wouldn't listen … I just wanna cry … omg what do I do?" The prosecution said it was evidence of assault; the defense stressed her use of the word "think."
After a 12-day trial, Johnson was acquitted.
The primary will take place on June 3. Let's hope she doesn't win.
Image via J. Stephen Conn/Flickr.