University of Montana Rape Reports Botched, U.S. Finds

University Botched Rape Complaints, U.S. Finds

WASHINGTON -- Members of the University of Montana football team were treated as "gods" and were "allowed to get away with anything," including sexual assault, members of the university community told federal officials, according to a report released Thursday.

The University of Montana cooperated with probes by the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights starting in May 2012. Two agreements with the university require the campus police force, found to have discriminated against women students, to work with an independent monitor to ensure proper responses to rape and sexual harassment allegations in the future, and order university officials to revise policies.

The investigation found that six football players were accused of aiding, attempting or committing sexual assault from spring 2009 to spring 2012 and that three of the players weren't prosecuted through the campus judicial system for more than a year after their coach was notified that the victim had filed a complaint with the Missoula Police Department. Former Montana quarterback Jordan Johnson was acquitted of rape earlier this year.

A campus police officer reported that one woman who said she was physically and sexually assaulted "did not appear visibly upset" and wrote that she did "appear somewhat angry and agitated," according to the Justice Department report. Further, the campus officer failed to note any of the woman's physical injuries, only her alcohol-scented breath. The Justice Department said the officer appeared to have relied on "unwarranted gender-based assumptions and stereotypes."

Two campus police officers responding to a different sexual assault report used the term "regretted sex," according to the report. Students and community activists described the officers' responses as "incompetent" and said they were "not well-trained," the report said.

Women reporting sexual assault were exposed to initial police interviews that could "discourage women from reporting sexual assaults," the Justice Department found.

"Women reported to us that being interviewed by [campus police] officers was emotionally difficult because they were simultaneously interviewed by multiple officers, because they were asked very personal questions without warning and without explanation of the questions' relevance to the investigation, and because the officers' emphasis on the personal burdens involved in seeking criminal justice heightened their fears," the report said. One advocate said the process was "painful" for victims.

The head of campus security told federal officials that his officers tried to assess whether an offense is "provable" and whether it seemed "credible" during their initial contact with a victim. The Justice Department said that was "in direct contradiction" to what the role of a first responder should be.

"The problems we found at the University of Montana were real and significant," Roy L. Austin of the Justice Department Civil Rights Division said in a statement. "These concerns, however, are not unique to this campus. The women who are subject to sexual harassment and assault know that without support the devastating consequences for them, their classmates and their community are made all the worse. Institutions of higher learning across the country must be absolutely tireless in their determination to fully and effectively respond to reports of sexual assault and sexual harassment on their campuses involving their students."

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