Missoula Isn’t the Only Site of Rape Culture


Written by Kate Whittle

The police department, county prosecutor’s office and university in my hometown of Missoula, Montana, are under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. Allegedly, they have failed to correctly handle sexual assault cases, so 80 reported rapes from the past three years will be reviewed.

A couple of months prior to that announcement, the University of Montana fired its football coach and athletics director under speculation that the athletics department wasn’t punishing athletes involved in sexual assault.

Rape culture is systemic in America; Missoula, sadly, reflects that. And it isn’t the first city to be under this kind of scrutiny: The justice department has investigated 18 police departments under the Obama administration, including a 2011 study that concluded New Orleans police weren’t handling violence against women appropriately.

Along with other Missoulians, I’m incredibly saddened and disturbed by the allegations that our police force isn’t protecting us. Montana Supreme Court Justice Diane Barz investigated the University of Montana incidents (which included an alleged gang rape) and concluded that “the UM has a problem of sexual assault on and off campus,” according to a May 1 article in the Missoulian. The same article reports that the DoJ alleges that the police and county attorney “…failed to investigate reports of sexual assaults against women because of their gender or in a manner that has a disparate impact on women.”

No matter how awful these charges are, however, it’s not true that Missoula is a “Rape Capital,” as implied by Jezebel blogger Katie J.M. Baker. She visited Missoula for a few days and her account largely portrays the community as chock-full of victim-blaming hicks. “Welcome to Missoula: Please Keep An Eye On Your Drink” reads the photo accompanying Baker’s article.

By singling out Missoula, her article makes the town seem like the poster child for sexual assault and rape culture. It lets readers think, Well, at least I don’t live there, without asking them to look and see what rape culture might be in their backyards.

Missoula is not the only town in the world with bars populated by predatory date-rapists and institutions that perpetuate victim-blaming. Rape happens everywhere, from the University of Montana campus to the streets of Manhattan. Baker herself notes that 80 reported rapes over three years makes Missoula about average for college-town rape statistics. Those stats are wrong in any town, of course.

Baker opens her story with scenes of intoxicated fraternity men at Stockman’s, a bar she was warned has a sketchy scene. Had she stopped instead for a pint in the Golden Rose two blocks east, where many of my progressive friends can be found on a Friday night, she would have heard from the community that’s working to stop rape culture.

Baker might have met Robyn Hegland, a Missoula feminist who’s former coordinator of the University of Montana Women’s Resource Center and current Women’s Opportunity Resource Development Americorps VISTA volunteer. Hegland is unhappy with Jezebel’s reporting, writing:

It is clear that Missoula police, as well as UM administration, are not taking rape reports seriously. Many locals have expressed the opinion that rape is the fault of the victim, and police have acted in a way that reflects this view. Rape cases have been handled in an unprofessional way which has infringed on the rights of Missoula women. Underlying it all is the belief that women do not own their own bodies, something we are struggling with on a national scale. In this sense, I welcome the investigation, but I do not welcome predatory, inaccurate articles like those we’ve seen in Jezebel.

UM graduate Paige Browning is also upset with how the Greek community at UM is painted as being responsible for rape culture:

As a sorority member I learned more about assault awareness, safe alcohol use and even good study skills than I did from any other University/campus involvement. … A fraternity man who frequents Stockman’s does not represent them all, just as a football player who assaults a woman does not represent the team.

Browning points out that Missoula and UM have developed resources for victims of sexual assault, even if the police are less than sensitive to the perils:

Students who’ve experience assault would face welcome arms from the Student Assault Resource Center (SARC), with professionals who understand that these cries for help are real. Police, on the other hand, seem to have the attitude that, because it’s a college town, some behaviors are expected, like drinking underage, bar fights and over-intoxication.

I and many feminist Montanans hope the flurry of media attention shines a spotlight on the mishandling of sexual assault cases in Missoula and everywhere else, as well as making sure that blame is placed where it belongs and not on the victims. And I hope that media outlets such as Jezebel stop exploiting what they see as a backwater ‘burg for page views.

This post was originally published by Ms. Magazine.


Related Stories:

Feds Launches Investigation of Missoula Sexual Assaults

Sexual Assault on Campus: Who is Responsible?

Police Officer Advises Women to Avoid Sexual Assault By Not Dressing Like a “Slut”


Photo from Zach Slootsky via flickr


mike lueras
mike lueras5 years ago

rape culture - this a legacy of 400 years of SLAVERY of which slavery RAPE was an ESSENTIAL part - WATCH "ROOTS" - that Slavery was NEVER punished nor was reparation made - therefore the related MENTALITY continues as "RAPE CULTURE" today, amen?
is there any other explanation?

A N M.
anne M5 years ago

Obviously the US is no different from the Middle East which would explain why the US military is so obsessed with that part of the world. Oh well.................

Pamela T.
Pamela Tracy5 years ago

Our country has this demented medium mentality that we have to pay for our lives if we dont live like some virgin fanatic or prig church fanatic...believe me they are alive and well in the world...women need to quit joining the fanatic sides to be wanted and included and need to live life normally and young women need to live life smarter...believe me...I hardly had a life raising two children being divorce in 1969....however i wanted a family life and if that was alone without a man .... so be it...I did not then and do not now have much patience with men.since I was left to go it alone with two small children.....and a chicken father....so naturally being the 1970's when men did not want to take on divorced women with children I found it easier to live alone....i am old now and i can tell you starting with the very second man i met I should never have believed any man until I had my own stable worklife.....THIS COUNTRY IS A BUNCH OF PERVS IN LAW ENFORCEMENT, IN CIA AND FBI AND INTELLIGENCE AND THEY GET AWAY WITH MAKING IT A VOLATILE SITUATION FOR WOMEN WHO REALLY DONT WANT THEM LIKE THEY THINK....MONTANA IS JUST A BUNCH OF SLUTTY WOMEN ON THE WIRE SERVICES SICCING MEN ON WOMEN WHO DONT WANT THEM...WE WOMEN DONT HAVE TO GIVE UP HAVING SOME FUN ....IN FEAR WE ARE GOING TO BE RAPED...MEN SHOULD KEEP THEIR ZIPPERS CLOSED....

JH Mccallum
JH M5 years ago

TIM r (leary?)
Since you mostly only post about drugs, I guess you might have misunderstood as you perused my posts. They mostly go unchallenged, so I am guilty of then stooping to the level of the person making the inane response comment, like yours.
I can be much more elaborate in my facts and sources, but I seldom get a legit enough response to follow up on-- usually its the "Oh yeah? So's your old man/ sez you " type rhetoric.
Here's one example that may help. I asked if any women were going to rise up regarding Planned Parenthood's facilitation and counseling of abortions for female babies. I could have cited the incident and many other PP unbridled atrocities, but alas, no comments about the documented fact. I said they need an oversight group to keep them from counseling however they see fit-- maybe lib support of PP is too ingrained.? Regardless, no response.
Gets old.

Carl Oerke
Carl O5 years ago

Missoula Montana might not be the Rape Capital of the US or the only site of Rape Culture in the country but anywhere that the culture exists and law enforcement agencies and proesecutors do not investigate completley or charge the alleged prepetrators will only contribute to the culture.

Elaine McAuliffe
Elaine McAuliffe5 years ago

I was happy to hear from two women who stood up for their town. However, that changes nothing. The sniggering police officer, sheriffs deputy, etc who suggests that the woman was asking for it is in the wrong no matter where it takes place. That old fashioned attitude that the woman must have done something to cause the attack is what needs to be addressed. We can start to do that by addressing the individuals we hear expressing these views, no matter how loud they are or how embarrassed some of us may be by a public confrontation.

Theresa Tocco

Just remind any male friends who hold the smug belief that some women "deserve" to be raped, that children, elderly women, and sometimes even men are raped. Do they "deserve" it, too?

Lucy Bell
Lucy Bell5 years ago

It's very easy to feel smug when we read articles about terrible rape-related stories that happened in other towns, until we find out about the horrendous things that were going on just down the street from us.

John B.
John B5 years ago

Thanks for posting Kate Whittle's response to Katie post. Rape anywhere is unaceptable anywhere, however I didn't get the impression from Katie's posting that she was calling Missoula the "Rape Capital" but was targeting the police and county attorney.

John B.
John B5 years ago

Thanks for posting Kate Whittle's response to Katie's article. Rape at college or anywhere is unacceptable, however in reading Katie's post I didn't get the impression she was declaring that Missoula was the "Rape Capital" but was targeting the police and county attorney for their attitude on this issue.