What's Happened in Missoula Since Our Visit?

Illustration for article titled What's Happened in Missoula Since Our Visit?

A lot has happened in Missoula, Montana since our story on the Federal Department of Justice's investigation into the handling of sexual assault allegations by the Missoula Police Department, the County Attorney's Office, and the University of Montana. Here's a roundup:


Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights announced a second federal investigation into into how the University of Montana handles sexual assault cases, reports the Missoulian. In January, months before the DoJ investigation was announced, the agency received a complaint that named UM, the Grizzlies football team, UM President Royce Engstrom, former President George Dennison, and an athletic director and football coach. "I was told they would be ‘trained.'" the person wrote. "Now we have rapes, gang rapes, cover ups."

Last weekend, the Missoulian obtained emails through a Freedom of Information Act that shed some light on how the UM administration dealt internally with the sexual assaults, which is: not very well. Most disturbing is how former UM Vice President Jim Foley yearned to punish an alleged rape victim for speaking out about her case.

"Is it not a violation of the student code of conduct for the woman to be publicly talking about the process and providing details about the conclusion?" Foley emailed then Dean of Students Charles Couture in March. "Help me understand please."

The paper has a breakdown of other choice uncovered details; for example, the university wanted to know how their preferred term, "date rape," publicly became "gang rape." They also decided to delay releasing a final report on the alleged sexual assaults so that it wouldn't get piled up on top of the hearing on a restraining order filed against Grizzlies quarterback Jordan Johnson.

The New York Times also published a lengthy piece that's a good summary of everything that's been going on over the past academic year, and quoted some Missoula women that are working to make the situation better. "People are getting angry, but in a good way that facilitates discussion," Eilis O'Herlihy, the coordinator of the university's Student Assault Resource Center, told the Times. "There's a coming together to say it isn't welcome here."

But other quotes highlight how sexual assault is not taken seriously by everyone. "I'm very sorrowful one of the premier universities in the Rockies has been scandalized by a few knuckleheaded students," Pat Williams, a former United States congressman and a member of Montana's Board of Regents, told the Times. "The football team has been terribly hurt by this." Oh, just a few knuckleheads. And that poor football team!


U.S. Education Department opens investigation of UM sexual assaults [Missoulian]
UM vice president sought to punish alleged rape victim, emails reveal [Missoulian]
Montana Football Team at Center of Inquiry Into Sexual Assaults [NYT]

Image via Richard Paul Kane /Shutterstock.



I am absolutely not going to defend anyone who commits rape, covers it up, or fails to investigate it properly. However, the entire football team is not necessarily in need of punishment, and they are getting really terrible PR. Missoula needs that team, for morale and to help attract students to the school, which generates a lot of money for the town. Obviously this is why so many people are willing to protect them and the school, which is not right, but I know people in Missoula who were very happy that the school initially appeared to take action by firing the coach. I don't live there, but I have a lot of connections to Missoula and visit frequently, and it's hard to see the entire town taken down in these articles. Missoula has a really terrible problem right now, one that I hope is fixed in the most just way possible, but it has many great attributes as well. I didn't recognize the Missoula I read about in the last Jezebel article. The scariest thing that ever happened to me there was seeing a bear on a suburban street. The people I know who live there are educated, well traveled, worldly, and have liberal viewpoints - they are not stoner gunslingers who look the other way on violent crime. The town has an independent movie theater, many small businesses - shops, restaurants, galleries - and an amazing farmer's market. It is so much better in many ways than it is portrayed here, and it's awful to know that the college culture isn't living up to what it should be.