Time magazine’s cover story this week focuses on how a college town once known as “America’s Rape Capital” is repairing its image and working to better protect students from sexual assault.
Missoula, Montana — home of the University of Montana — was thrust into the national spotlight in 2012 when the then-U.S. Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights announced a federal investigation into how the city and university handled sexual assaults. According to the AG, Missoula had seen at least 80 reported rapes in the previous three years.
However, as Time reporter Eliza Grey notes, this statistic is actually not “a bizarre sexual-assault outlier in higher education,” but rather “is fairly average.”
In the lead-up to the federal investigation, Grey reports, the University of Montana had appointed an independent investigator to look into one — of what became several — alleged sexual assault cases involving members of the school’s football team. There were other high profile cases throughout 2011 and 2012, including one involving a male student from Saudi Arabia who fled the country to avoid an investigation.
According to Time, the university’s old reputation seems to be changing now, thanks to specific measures taken after the federal investigation. Here are some of the steps the University of Montana has taken to lose its reputation as “America’s Rape Capital”:
- The university introduced “a video tutorial about rape myths, school policies and resources on campus that students were required to watch before registering for spring-semester classes.”
- All University of Montana employees — excluding counselors and medical professionals — are now required to report any information about a sexual assault to a Title IX coordinator.
- A new program called “Don’t Cancel That Class” asks professors “to use free blocks of time to ask someone knowledgeable about sexual violence to teach the class.”
- A “cutting-edge bystander-awareness program” will help students “come up with realistic strategies to intervene in sexual assaults before they happen — by trying to distract or stop a potential perpetrator or getting a potential victim (like an intoxicated girl) away from a risky situation.”
It’s too soon to track the effectiveness of these new initiatives, but students are already noticing the administration’s efforts. One University of Montana student told Time, “Things are slowly starting to change. You still encounter resistance, rape-culture issues. It hasn’t gone away, but the university is taking great steps.”
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