Justice Dept. To Investigate Handling Of Sexual Assaults At University Of Montana

The U.S. Department of Justice announced yesterday that it will launch an investigation into how the University of Montana at Missoula handled over 80 sexual assault reports in the past three years and whether proper procedures were followed.

Eleven of those alleged sexual assaults took place in the past 18 months and at least two of them involve footballer players from the school’s University of Montana Grizzlies team. As recently as December, a female student alleged she was gang raped after possibly being drugged by several male students.

Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez said the investigation is being carried out in Missoula about because a culture of consequence-free sexual assault on campus “can negatively impact [women’s] ability to learn and continue their education.” The DOJ won’t just investigate the university’s response to the sexual assault reports — which some say weren’t handled properly — but the handling by the local police and county attorney, too. By launching this investigation, the government is making a clear statement about the proper handling of rape allegations in a university setting.

As a series of investigative reports by NPR and the Center For Public Integrity found in 2010, even when a male student is found guilty of sexual assault on campus, the punishment applied against him is gentle. Also, it is usually the woman who brought the complaint — his victim — who leaves the college. The subtext in many of these news reports about the Missoula investigation (although not explicitly stated by the DOJ, of course) is that players from school sports teams accused of sexual assault are given a slap on the wrist.

Of course, Missoula is far from the only school whose sexual assault reportage has been — or should be — scrutinized. Just this past December, The Chicago Tribune published an article questioning the handling of sexual assaults at Chicago area schools. In 2010, a freshman at St. Mary’s committed suicide after she reported an alleged sexual assault against a member of Notre Dame’s football team and it took Notre Dame three months to turn her case over to prosecutors.

There are many, many examples of stories like these as well and they’re all unacceptable. I hope the DOJ investigation of Missoula sends a message to other schools. 


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