A couple weeks ago, the Justice Department launched a federal investigation into the handling of sexual assault cases in Missoula, Montana. The town has seen 80 reported rapes in the last three years–including 11 cases involving students and accusations against several Grizzlies football players–but local officials say that’s typical for a college town that size. And they’re right.
Which makes Katie J.M. Baker’s report on her trip to Missoula all that much more depressing. If Missoula really isn’t all that different from countless other college towns in the U.S., we’re clearly all screwed:
Nearly everyone I meet in Missoula — on porches, at coffee shops, in bars — agrees on three points. The first is that the city’s police force is a joke, ill-equipped to deal with the heavy interstate narcotics flow (the federal government has officially designated the area as a “high intensity drug trafficking area”), drunk driving (even the head of the student health center has a DUI under his belt), and — yes — sexual assaults that occur on a regular basis. The second point is that rape is very bad. And the third is that the girls in Missoula are the type who “make shit up for attention.” Girls “cry rape” in Missoula, say the girls of Missoula, who are often quicker to blame “sluts” for getting themselves into sketchy situations than are guys. I’m told over and over again that, thanks to the allegations that have surfaced over the past few months, more and more girls are blaming their post-hookup shame on the guys they — in the minds of so many of the Missoulians I meet — happily and carelessly took home the night before.
There’s a lot of awful stuff here: A police chief who told a woman, who had run straight to the precinct after being assaulted, that “most rape reports are false.” A county attorney who seemed more worried that filing charges would “ruin [the accused assailant's] life” than any semblance of justice for the victim. A university president who responded to two on-campus assaults by writing an editorial imploring students to “take responsibility for your personal well-being.”
But while the worst behavior by local authorities can hopefully be addressed by the DOJ investigation, it’s the other stuff that’s most disturbing. The guy who says, “I mean, the guy was definitely pushing too hard, but is that rape?” (Hint: Yes, it mostly clearly is.) The students who are convinced that women who say they’ve been raped are just lying for “attention” or to excuse the “stupid stuff” they did the night before. The girl who insists, “I’m not saying they’re not rapists. But the girls help it along.”
As Katie notes, a federal probe will do nothing to address a culture in which girls are slut-shamed, while “drunk guys who may have ‘made mistakes’ nearly always get the benefit of the doubt,” and people–both men and women–truly can’t seem to tell the difference between drunk sex and rape.