DOJ Investigates University’s Response to Rapes

Published: May 1, 2012

MISSOULA, Mont. — The U.S. Department of Justice has launched an investigation into complaints that authorities did not properly investigate more than 80 rapes in the past three years, including at least 11 student-related sexual assault cases at the University of Montana at Missoula.

The investigation will focus on allegations that local law enforcement did not properly investigate and prosecute assaults due to gender discrimination, MSNBC reports. The Justice department will examine the inner working of the university’s public safety office, the Missoula Police Department and the Missoula County Attorney’s Office. 

Related Article: Preventing and Responding to Campus Sexual Assaults

Late last year, the Justice Department became aware of serious concerns that alleged sexual assaults of women, including but not limited to students at the University of Montana, were not being investigated in a prompt and adequate fashion, according to a statement by Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, Thomas E. Perez.

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“Our review to date involved interviews with numerous people, and a review of documents and other information.  Our primary focus is not the number of reported allegations of sexual assault; rather, our focus is on the response.

“I am here to announce that the Civil Rights Division and the United States Attorney’s office are conducting a full investigation of the University of Montana, the University Office of Public Safety, the City of Missoula Police Department and the office of the Missoula County Attorney.  

“The purpose of the investigation is to determine whether the University and the law enforcement agencies acted promptly, adequately, and fairly to protect the safety of women and whether the university, the police, and the county attorney have comprehensive and integrated systems in place to do so.  

“As to the University, we are investigating whether it responds promptly and effectively to allegations of sexual assault and harassment on campus and has taken the necessary steps to combat sexual violence and sexual harassment across the University community. The University has a legal obligation under federal civil rights laws to respond effectively and expeditiously to sexual violence and sexual harassment, prevent its recurrence and address its impacts. Equally if not more importantly, the University has a compact with its students, their families and the community: to build and sustain a safe, nurturing and vibrant learning environment where students receive critical preparation to succeed in life, and a campus that is a place of learning and an incubator of innovation and critical thinking. The playing field at the University of Montana, and at every college and university across the country, must be a place for all students; all students must feel safe and have confidence in the university’s demonstrated commitment to protect them. President Engstrom understands this. I would like to thank you for your cooperation; your leadership has been impressive.

“As to the Missoula Police Department, the University’s Office of Public Safety, and the County Attorney’s office, we are examining whether these offices have engaged in a pattern or practice of failing to investigate or prosecute sexual assaults against women in Missoula, including students at the University of Montana. The investigation will examine alleged assaults against all women, not only University students. These law enforcement agencies have a legal obligation under federal laws to ensure that such serious allegations of sexual assault are investigated in an adequate and effective manner.  

“These law enforcement agencies also recognize the public safety imperative. Their job is to protect and serve, and the most important currency a police officer and a prosecutor have is the respect and confidence of the community. One key objective of our investigation is to ensure that you can retain that respect by having a comprehensive and integrated system in place for the full, fair, and independent investigation of all sexual assault allegations.  

“It is important to underscore that this is a civil investigation. We are not investigating whether any University official or law enforcement official has engaged in criminal conduct, and we are not investigating the allegations of rape or sexual assault for potential federal criminal prosecution. Rather, our focus is on systemic issues, that is, do the University and the law enforcement agencies have the necessary policies and practices in place to protect women in a comprehensive and integrated manner.

“The voices of women who have been sexually assaulted or harassed must be heard. Your experiences are critically important to us, and a key part of our investigation. Please contact us toll-free by phone at 1-855-307-6103 or via email at”

Missoula authorities claim the number of rapes in Missoula is on par with similarly sized college towns, and the county’s chief prosecutor questioned the justice department’s rationale for its inquiry, reports MSNBC.

Read the press release.

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