Today, I am pleased to announce that the Department of Justice has entered into a comprehensive agreement with the Missoula County Attorney’s Office, the County of Missoula and Montana Attorney General Tim Fox to resolve DOJ’s investigation of the County Attorney’s Office’s response to reports of sexual assault. Today’s groundbreaking agreement represents another important step forward in our ongoing effort to ensure that survivors of sexual assault in Missoula are treated with dignity and respect and have the full protection of the criminal justice system.
Let me provide some context for today’s agreement. In May of 2012, the Department of Justice opened a four-pronged investigation into allegations that the University of Montana at Missoula, the Missoula Police Department, the university’s campus police and the Missoula County Attorney’s Office discriminated against women, individually and collectively, in their response to sexual assault. Throughout these investigations, we looked at the conduct of each entity to determine whether its practices discriminated against women. We also investigated whether the system as a whole denied women equal protection and access to justice. This holistic approach, using the full breadth of our enforcement authorities, was designed to comprehensively address the pervasive problem of sexual assault by working with each of the institutions whose actions determine whether women’s safety, and civil rights, will be adequately protected.
We are pleased to announce that today in Missoula, this comprehensive investigation has resulted in a comprehensive solution. Just over one year ago, the Department of Justice entered into agreements with the University of Montana and its Office of Public Safety, as well as the Missoula Police Department, to create systemic reforms to improve those entities’ response to allegations of sexual assault. Now, through today’s agreement, the Missoula County Attorney’s Office will join its law enforcement partners and the University of Montana in committing to the structural changes necessary to ensure a non-discriminatory, effective response to reports of sexual assault. Today’s agreement will lead to reform at every stage in the criminal justice system and will enable Missoula to more effectively protect women on campus and throughout the criminal justice process.
I would like to take a moment to thank Montana Attorney General Fox for his leadership on this issue and for his willingness to assist in resolving this investigation. Attorney General Fox has committed to overseeing the agreed-upon reforms in the County Attorney’s Office and to ensuring compliance with our agreement. And, given his statutory authority over prosecutors’ offices throughout the state, I would also like to thank him for his interest in replicating the reforms of this agreement in prosecutors’ offices across the state.
I also want to acknowledge and thank County Attorney Van Valkenburg and the Missoula Board of County Commissioners for their collaboration in resolution of this investigation and commitment to implementing the agreement’s reforms. We know this investigation has been difficult for them, which only increases our appreciation for the leadership they have shown by agreeing to the reforms we announce today.
I want also to echo the appreciation that United States Attorney Cotter has expressed to Mayor Engen and University of Montana President Royce Engstrom. Both have demonstrated singular leadership in their efforts to ensure the safety of women, on campus and in the wider Missoula community, and both have made clear their commitment to engaging in effective, non-discriminatory responses to sexual assault when it occurs. It is through – and only through -- the joint efforts of all of these institutions, along with the County Attorney, that we can hope to realize the law’s promise that women will be treated equally and provided a safe environment in which to pursue their studies and live their lives.
Finally, I wanted to extend special thanks to the many women who spoke with us throughout our investigation. We were impressed with their fortitude and courage, and grateful for their willingness to share their stories, often extremely personal and emotionally difficult to retell, in the hopes that it would help make Missoula safer for women facing similar challenges in the future.
The agreement we announce today is designed to address the specific concerns we identified during our investigation of the Missoula County Attorney’s Office. We believe that the measures the county has agreed to today will result in a fairer and more effective system for investigating and prosecuting sexual assault complaints.
The agreement requires the County Attorney’s Office to:
The agreement further requires that Attorney General Fox oversee implementation of these steps, with the advice, counsel, and assistance of Anne Munch, a seasoned sex crimes prosecutor who is one of the country’s foremost experts in this area. Attorney General Fox has also agreed to review all cases that the County Attorney’s Office has declined for prosecution for a period of at least one year. Attorney General Fox and Anne Munch will publicly report on their work and the status of implementation of this agreement.
These measures are straightforward, commonsense and non-controversial. They do not second-guess the County Attorney’s decisions about how to proceed in particular cases and do not in any way intrude on prosecutorial discretion. Instead, they address systems that prosecutors’ offices can create to ensure that they have the infrastructure in place to respond effectively – and without discrimination or gender bias – to complaints of sexual assault. We hope that this agreement, and the systems that will be created as a result, can provide templates for prosecutors around the country to improve their ability to prosecute these serious crimes.
And make no mistake about it – these crimes are serious. One in five women is sexually assaulted during her college years. And far too many women face sexual assault in their communities. And yet sexual assault remains one of the most under-reported serious crimes today. For all these reasons, President Obama established a White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. To reverse this under-reporting, those subject to sexual assault must know that their reports will be taken seriously, and handled without bias or stereotypes, throughout the criminal justice process – from the time a woman first reports an assault, to the law enforcement investigation, and ultimately, through prosecution of the assault. With the agreement we have reached today now in place, and the continued commitment of the County Attorney’s law enforcement and university partners, we are confident that this standard can be met – and that women in Missoula will be safer and have greater access to criminal justice going forward.
We are delighted to join with County Attorney Van Valkenburg, Attorney General Fox, Mayor Engen and President Engstrom in ensuring that we can do just that. With today’s agreement, we are closer to achieving those goals and to providing women the protection and equal rights to which they are entitled.