Rape culture rampant in Missoula, Montana and everywhere else too

**Trigger warning**

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.

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6 Comments

  1. Posted May 11, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    I have assorted problems with Baker’s piece. Maybe they are knitpicky, but they bothered me.

    It bothered me that Baker did not use a trigger warning. It bothered me that she chose to use “victim”-based language instead of survivor-based language.

    The biggest problem I have with this piece, however, is that one of Baker’s sources, a survivor, asked to not be used in the piece after her interview. Baker chose to quote her anyway, while mentioning that the survivor begged to have her quotes removed.
    Is it necessary to violate a survivor’s boundaries just for the sake of an article?

  2. Posted May 11, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    The way I read the article: the girl who begged to have her quotes removed was the alias “Tori” who was friends with the football guys. I think “Tori” was afraid of loosing her popularity status. I don’t think she identified herself as a survivor or a victim. She was saying that she was on again/off again with one of the football team members and that she believes that one or both of the survivors who reported the incident were lying because they were ashamed of what they had done and that the players had recorded the incident (very disturbing!).

  3. Posted May 11, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    Well obviously College kids are not treated as adults, that extends to incidents of rape as well it seems.

  4. Posted May 11, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    You know, being in Missoula I was kind of excited when I saw that Katie would be here. Then I realized she went to the seediest college bar in town and apparently talked to a very small segmant of those kids to paint a picture of what Missoula looks like. I really wish she would have talked to a wider variety of people here. There is a very strong feminist population, we just had a slutwalk, walk a mile in her shoes, and Men of Strength is gaining a presence here.

    Not to say rape culture isn’t a huge problem here. It is (Take a look at any article regarding the assaults on the Missoulian and you will want to throw yourself off a bridge). I really wish she would have tried a little harder to go more for truth and less for shock value.

    • Posted May 15, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

      Agreed. Obviously I am bias because I grew up/live in the area, but it seems as though a fair picture has not been painted of Missoula. Many community members, including myself, work in agencies or with organizations that work hard to fight against the rape culture and although we are a college town, our town is not just the college.

  5. Posted May 12, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Yes! Rape is so pervasive in our culture, subtle forms of it go unquestioned or are even defended! And rape jokes are never funny.

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