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UM Assault Allegations

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By TOM DIDDEL

Autumn at the University of Montana brings with it a great deal of excitement.

Incoming freshmen arrive at our small-town campus with great anticipation and pride as they begin a new chapter in their lives. Parents feel a sense of safety sending their young adults to a university that prides itself on academic achievement while avoiding many of the problems that plague larger institutions.

However, the current investigation concerning sexual assaults involving students on and off campus might leave many parents wondering just how safe the university really is.

The results of a recent independent inquiry by former state Supreme Court Justice Diane Barz uncovered nine cases of sexual assaults between September 2010 and December 2011, as reported by the Montana Kaimin. While the details surrounding the cases are disturbing, the report did find that UM’s staff acted appropriately.

In a Montana News Now article, the former Supreme Court Justice stated: “The employees immediately went to their supervisors, sought professional counsel on dealing with the victims, and reached administration and the President within days. The staff cooperated promptly to all requests and questions. I cannot find any suggestions to improve on what transpired in the reporting of these incidents.”

The University of Montana sign blanketed in snow.

Despite the appropriate reporting of the incidents by the university’s staff, Diane Barz’s investigation does make some troubling conclusions regarding the inadequacies of the university’s policy when it concerns dealing with the reported crimes.

According to a Billings Gazette article, the former Supreme Court Justice reported that “a rape-tolerant campus with ineffective programming, inadequate support services for victim survivors, and inequitable grievance procedures threatens every student.”

The investigation points toward a breakdown in prevention, victim support, and legal steps taken by the university system. Diane Barz’s full report can be read on the University of Montana’s website.

The previously mentioned Montana News Now story also depicts a culture of silence surrounding the campus rapes.

Barz condemns UM students who may have witnessed the incidents, stating she was “disappointed with what she called students’ ‘lack of response’ about knowledge of house parties where rapes may have occurred.” The former Supreme Court Justice’s comment sheds light on a national problem among students and school officials who do not take their moral responsibilities seriously.

While the University of Montana’s faculty reported the assaults, the students’ silence is eerily similar to the moral failure that allowed Jerry Sandusky to continue finding victims at Penn State. The Sandusky scandal is described further in a York Daily Record article.

In a forum at the University of Montana campus, President Royce Engstrom described steps the institution will take to prevent future sexual assaults.

Through campus education, clarification of the university’s role in communicating with law enforcement, and explaining the expectations and standards all incoming students must adhere to, the university is committed to preventing further assaults.

While the university makes adjustments and continues its review of the reporting process of sexual assaults, it is important to remember the university initiated and paid for the independent investigation.

This may be of little consolation to the victims, but it shows the university is taking the problem seriously.

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