The U.S. Department of Justice on Monday announced it was investigating how rape cases in Missoula, Montana were being handled by local authorities.
Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas E. Perez said there was “serious concern” that as many as 80 rape cases “were not being investigated in a prompt and adequate fashion.”
A number of those cases involved students at the University of Montana. In December 2010, two female students were allegedly gang-raped by several male students of the Grizzlies football team. The case lay dormant for a year, until a similar incident occurred again in December 2011.
The university hired former Montana Supreme Court Justice Diane Barz to investigate the sexual assaults. After the investigation grew to include nine more victims, she concluded that “UM has a problem of sexual assault on and off campus.”
The U.S. Department of Justice will conduct a civil investigation of the university’s policies and practices regarding sex crimes.
“The purpose of the investigation is to determine whether the University and the law enforcement agencies acted promptly, adequately, and fairly to protect the safety of women and whether the university, the police, and the county attorney have comprehensive and integrated systems in place to do so,” Perez explained.
“The University has a legal obligation under federal civil rights laws to respond effectively and expeditiously to sexual violence and sexual harassment, prevent its recurrence and address its impacts,” he added. The investigation will also examine whether local law enforcement has shown a “pattern or practice of failing to investigate or prosecute sexual assaults against women in Missoula.”
“We are not investigating whether any University official or law enforcement official has engaged in criminal conduct,” Perez noted.
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