University Of Montana Vows To Protect Women After Rape Charges Against Football Player Jordan Johnson

By Laura Zuckerman

Aug 1 (Reuters) - The University of Montana pledged to ensure the safety of women on the 15,600-student campus in Missoula on Wednesday, a day after quarterback Jordan Johnson became the second member of the football team to be charged with rape.

The charge came amid a continuing U.S. Justice Department probe into the handling by university and local authorities of 80 rapes reported in Missoula over the past three years, at least 11 involving students, including football players.

A parallel investigation by the federal Department of Education seeks to determine if the university responded promptly and appropriately to the 11 sexual assault reports, just two of which have led to criminal charges.

"The university is moving forward aggressively with its plan to educate students, faculty and staff about the issues of sexual assault and harassment," President Royce Engstrom told Reuters on Wednesday.

A training program on sexual violence will also now be required for incoming students. Earlier in the year, Engstrom announced he would not renew the contracts of the team's head football coach and the school's athletic director in a move widely seen as precipitated by the sexual assault allegations.

Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg charged Johnson on Tuesday with sexual intercourse without consent stemming from accusations by a fellow student that the quarterback raped her while they were watching a movie in her bedroom in February.

Johnson was suspended from the Montana Grizzlies, which have dominated the Big Sky Conference, pending the outcome of the case. Johnson's attorney, David Paoli, said in a statement that his client "strongly maintains his innocence."

He is the second player to be charged with rape and to be suspended from a team that commands a fierce loyalty extending far beyond the campus in western Montana.

Running back Beau Donaldson was accused in January of raping an acquaintance at his residence while she slept. He has pleaded not guilty.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Jackie Frank)