DOJ report finds problems with Missoula Police investigations of sexual assault

A Department of Justice report released today finds instances of “significant deficiencies” in the Missoula Police Department’s investigations of sexual assault.

In response, the City of Missoula has signed a comprehensive settlement agreement to reform how the police conduct those investigations.

The announcement comes almost one week after the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division announced agreements to improve how the University of Montana responds to sexual assault allegations.

The investigation into the Missoula Police Department examined over 350 sexual assault reports from 2008 to 2012.

U-S Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Roy Austin, says the investigation revealed Missoula Police officers weren’t adequately trained to properly respond to sex assault complaints, investigations discouraged participation by victims and the department does not effectively coordinate with community partners.

The report says the Police Department’s response to sexual assault allegations were hampered by poor communications sometimes relied on gender-based stereotypes. It specifically points to a case in which a police detective told a woman the gang-rape she was reporting “was probably just a drunken night and a mistake.”  The detective then told her she “came across as kinda passive”. The same woman told Justice Department investigators she felt the detective was not only intimidating and rude, but his demeanor and statements left her feeling he didn’t believe her and that the assault had been her fault.

Another woman who ended up not pursuing criminal charges, reported a detective was constantly telling her how difficult it would be to testify in court.

The agreement requires the police department within two-years implement or revise its policies for investigating assaults, provide training to officers and their supervisors and change practices that discourage women from reporting sexual assaults.

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