Missoula, Montana: America’s rape capital?
I’ve been quiet on the blog for a very long time, but now that I’m hitting the research phase of my grad school program, I finally have a little time to devote to the blog.
Our neighbors to the west in Missoula, Montana, (where, in the interest of full disclosure, I lived for two years) have over the past several months experienced a sort of perfect storm involving a rash of allegations of rape, an ineffective and insensitive university administration, police force and prosecuting attorney’s office who handled cases poorly, and a history of poor communication between the University of Montana and the city and county authorities that have caused survivors of rape to be further victimized. Many of the allegations involve members of the Montana Grizzlies, the university’s beloved football team – even the team’s starting quarterback has been accused of rape – but others include a foreign exchange student who became aware of allegations against him through the university and fled the country before city police could arrest him.
The local newspaper (the Missoulian) has done an amazing job of covering the details of this from the start, but this article from Jezebel does a good job of summarizing what has happened in Missoula thus far. It also reveals an attitude that seems pretty widespread throughout Missoula – that women who go to bars ask for it (the quote from a UM student in the article is “Yes the guys are rapists, but the girls help it along”), that “our boys” on the Grizzly football team couldn’t possibly be guilty of rape, that “our” beautiful, liberal, hippie, microbrew-drinking, Obama-loving city in Montana couldn’t have the kind of culture that allows for this kind of thing to happen as much as it does.
What this article does most effectively, I think, is that it reveals some of the problems we have in understanding rape and sexual assault. In most cases, rape doesn’t involve a stranger in a dark alley. The perpetrator is usually someone the survivor knows. The perpetrator is usually someone who has assaulted before, and will assault again. The perpetrator often uses alcohol or drugs to make issues of consent hazy or uncertain. Because of all of this, only a tiny percentage of sexual assaults ever come to the attention of authorities. I don’t think any of this – attitudes about survivors of assault or a lack of understanding about what sexual assault usually looks like – is specific to Missoula.
Both the federal Department of Justice and the Department of Education are currently investigating the city police and county prosecutors’ office and the university for possible gender bias and Title IX violations in their handling of rape cases. Hopefully this will lead to new policies in Missoula that will better serve survivors of assault when they come forward. Changing peoples’ attitudes about survivors will be much more difficult.