Federal authorities say Missoula improving dealings with rape victims

Reuters News
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Posted: May 11, 2015 4:17 PM

By Lori Grannis

MISSOULA, Mont. (Reuters) - The Missoula Police Department has fully complied with a two-year agreement to improve how it deals with rape victims following a federal probe that uncovered civil rights violations and gender bias, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Monday.

The Justice Department investigation stemmed from allegations that local law enforcement in Missoula, and the state's flagship public university, had failed to aggressively pursue sexual assault and harassment reports, several of which involved University of Montana football players.

The Justice Department said in 2012 it would examine responses by local officials to 80 reported rapes over a three-year period, and later reached separate deals with the Missoula police and the University of Montana on reforming how those institutions respond to complaints of sex crimes.

The federal review found mistreatment of victims, including assertions by a woman who reported being gang-raped that her encounters with county prosecutors constituted a form of revictimization. It also reported allegations by the mother of a 5-year-old rape victim that she was told: “Boys will be boys.”

Missoula police improvements include a new Special Victims’ Unit, detectives that specialize in sex crime investigations, an interview room designed for victims of sex assault, and extensive training for detectives and first responders.

“We commend the Missoula Police Department and the city of Missoula for the leadership and commitment that they have demonstrated to transform the way in which their city police department responds to reports of sexual assault,” said U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter of the District of Montana.

Civil Rights Division Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta said she was hopeful the newest agreement with the Missoula County Attorney’s Office would net similarly positive results but that significant work lay ahead.

“We are eager to focus in on prosecution issues that we identified in working with newly elected County Attorney Kirsten Pabst to build on the steps she’s taken to change the culture and some of its practices,” Gupta said.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney)