The Department of Justice sent a letter to the Missoula County Attorney’s Office in Montana last Friday, alleging that it has found “substantial evidence” the County Attorney’s response to sexual assault discriminates against women. If what the DOJ alleges is true, this is some of the most disturbing stuff I have read in regards to the handling of victims of sexual assault and their assailants.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Civil Rights Division says in the letter, “We uncovered evidence of a disturbing pattern of deficiencies in the handling of these cases by the County Attorney’s Office, a pattern that not only denies victims meaningful access to justice, but places the safety of all women in Missoula at risk.” The investigation uncovered the following:
Despite their prevalence in the community, sexual assaults of adult women are given low priority in the County Attorney’s Office;
The County Attorney does not provide Deputy County Attorneys with the basic knowledge and training about sexual assault necessary to effectively and impartially investigate and prosecute these cases;
The County Attorney’s Office generally does not develop evidence in support of sexual assault prosecutions, either on its own or in cooperation with other law enforcement agencies
Adult women victims, particularly victims of non-stranger sexual assault and rape, are often treated with disrespect, not informed of the status of their case and revictimized by the process; and
The County Attorney’s Office routinely fails to engage in the most basic communication about its cases of sexual assault with law enforcement and advocacy partners.
From Mother Jones:
…in one instance, a deputy county attorney in Missoula allegedly quoted religious passages to a woman who’d reported sexual assault “in a way that the victim interpreted to mean that the Deputy County Attorney was judging her negatively for have made the report.” In another case, the Justice Department spoke to a woman whose daughter was sexually assaulted, at the age of five, by an adolescent boy, who was sentenced to two years of community service for the crime. A prosecutor handling the case allegedly told the mother that “boys will be boys.” Another sexual-assault victim discussing prosecution options was allegedly told by a deputy county attorney, “All you want is revenge.”
“Boys will be boys.” Really?
The Justice Department also claims there are several women who declined to press charges against their assailants because of the negative reports they had heard about the office. Can you blame them? One of the county attorneys issued a response to Mother Jones that everything the DOJ was alleging was “false” and accused them of being unethical and pushing a political agenda. What political agenda would that be? Making sure sexual assaults are prosecuted instead of shrugged off as unimportant? The DOJ even found that in some cases Missoula police officers secured enough evidence for a conviction but declined to pursue the cases:
According to the DOJ, in one case, police obtained a confession from a man who admitted to raping a woman while she was unconscious, and recommended that he be charged with rape and car theft. The prosecutor’s office allegedly declined to bring charges, citing “insufficient evidence.”
And that’s not the only example they cite of actually having a confession but still not moving forward with charges; “The DOJ determined that the prosecutor’s office declined to prosecute “nearly every case” involving nonstranger assaults on adult women who had a mental or physical disability, or who were intoxicated by drugs or alcohol.”
If what the letter alleges is true, this is not just a travesty of justice it’s a systemic undoing of victim’s rights and and outright assault on women. Disgusting. Read the Mother Jones article.