The Department of Justice announced yesterday that it is launching an investigation into the handling of sexual assault reports at the University of Montana in Missoula. The investigation was prompted by the large number of sexual assaults; there have been 80 reported cases of rape at the university in the past three years. There have been 11 sexual assault reports involving students at the University of Montana in the past eighteen months. The Justice Department will probe complaints that the local police department failed to fully investigate and prosecute reports of sexual assault and discriminated on the basis of gender.

Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, said “there are a lot of women in the community who have strong concerns about the manner in which sexual assaults have been handled.” He said the investigation will look into whether local law enforcement and university officials “acted promptly, fairly, and adequately to protect the interests of women” and said “our primary focus is not the number of reported allegations of sexual assault; rather, our focus is on the response.”

University officials said they will cooperate with the investigation. Missoula County’s chief prosecutor, Fred Van Valkenburg, blasted the investigation and defended his office. He called the investigation an “overreach by the federal government.”

CNN 5/2/12; Reuters 5/1/12; NPR 5/1/12; Bloomberg 5/1/12; Huffington Post 5/1/12

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