A year ago, the Department of Justice and the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights launched an investigation into the handling of sexual assault allegations at the University of Montana, then under fire for a spate of highly-publicized alleged rapes. Today, the feds and the college reached a positive yet not wholly reassuring compromise on how UM can improve sexual assault education and reporting procedures.
In May 2012, the U.S. announced a review of the UM's handling of sexual assault and harassment complaints over a three-year period, as well as its policies, procedures, training and student education efforts. Today, it's been "resolved."
From the press release:
The two agreements announced today resolve both of the United States’ investigations of the university: under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which both prohibit sex discrimination in education programs, including sexual assault and harassment, and the Department of Justice’s investigation of the university’s campus police under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, and the anti-discrimination provisions of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. The Department of Justice continues to seek resolution in its investigations of the Missoula Police Department and the Missoula County Attorney’s Office for their alleged failure to adequately respond to complaints of sexual assault.
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The university’s separate agreement with the Department of Justice resolving the investigation of the university’s OPS requires that the university:
- Implement or revise policies, provide training and change practices to improve its response to sexual assault, including combating gender bias;
- Work with an independent monitor, community-based organizations and other stakeholders, to develop and implement the reforms described in the agreement and to evaluate OPS’ success in effecting meaningful reform;
- Demonstrate that its implementation of the agreement has eliminated a pattern or practice of constitutional violations and that it has put in place systems and oversight that will prevent patterns or practices of unconstitutional conduct from recurring; and
- Develop procedures for gathering and analyzing data to assess the incidence and outcomes of reports of sexual assault.
UM says it will take two years to comply. You can read the full agreement and Letter of Findings here.
We asked Kerry Barrett — who became the poster child for Missoula's anti-rape movement last year after she was brave enough to speak out, on the record, about how the police had essentially ignored her and called her a slut when she reported her rape — what she thought of today's news.
Barrett said she was impressed by some of the resolutions, especially the call for an independent reviewer — "one should be implemented at every school," she said — but otherwise it sounded "like they didn't really find much wrong." Barrett added that she was more interested in hearing what the police and the county attorney's office — which are both under a still-pending DOJ investigation for the same issues — have to say for themselves.
Therein lies the obvious and overwhelming problem: sexual assault rates won't go down significantly unless college administrations, cops, legislators and normal sex-having civilians take sexual assault seriously. But holding separate parties accountable is a necessary start.
(Image via Campus Inn Missoula.)