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America’s Not-So Rape Capital – The Article That Started It All, a Poor Excuse for False Publicity

Time Magazine
Photo courtesy of Time Magazine

Time Magazine recently announced that the University of Montana will be showcased in a spread for an article entitled “The Sexual Assault Crisis on American Campuses.” Ironically, I also just finished an op-ed a month ago expressing why I felt Missoula should not be labeled as “America’s Rape Capital.” Seeing as how Missoula is still the talk to the nation when it comes to sexual assaults, I felt it only appropriate to share my feelings, as a third-year collegiate of the University of Montana, about UM being an ongoing target for backlash.

As the semester has come to a close, I felt it was appropriate timing, along with the publishing of the May 26 edition of Time Magazine, to share with the rest of Missoula, how I felt about the constant criticisms.

“Rape Capital:” A Poor Excuse for False Publicity

What exactly prompts negative media attention—especially shining an undesirable light upon not just a campus, but an entire college football team?

Ahead of top colleges such as UCLA and Notre Dame, the University of Montana rounds out at the 23rd safest campus in the nation according to University Primetime.

According to a December 2000 report entitled “The Sexual Victimization of College Women”: by the National Institute of Justice at the U.S. Department of Justice, a college with 10,000 students could experience as many as 350 rapes per year.

So why exactly is Missoula called the “Rape Capital?”

Jezebel.com, the main source and start-up for Missoula’s “Rape Capital” publicity, said 80 reported rapes in three years is, undeniably, on par with national averages for college towns of Missoula’s size.

With that being said, why is Missoula the only city with a target on their back if that’s the case?

“Missoula has a problem, but so does every other college town in this country,” said University of Montana student Kerry Barrett. “They’re just unlucky enough to get the attention.”

“This is a problem that every college campus in America experiences, every community experiences at some level, so it’s not unique to the University of Montana,” UM President Royce Engstrom said.

The New York Times reported that the series of events led to a federal Justice Department investigation into how the university, the City of Missoula and Missoula County handle the reporting of sexual assaults. It is also investigating the university under Title IX, part of federal education law, and Title IV, under the Civil Rights Act, for how it handled sexual assault accusations.

Even Elizabeth Hubble, Co-Director of Women’s and Gender Studies at UM said the media attention was frustrating, although beneficial in terms of garnering more support for advocacy work. “I think we are getting a lot of publicity right now for something that is not really an aberration,” Hubble said. “The ‘Rape Capital of America’ is not the slogan we want for Missoula.”

Oddly enough, similar cases happened just down the road at Montana State University, UM’s rival.

Campus police at MSU received two reports at about 1:30 and 3:45 in the morning of Sept. 15, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

Two rapes—both reported within 2 hours and 15 minutes.

That afternoon, administrators were conferring and by noon the next day, MSU sent an email alert about the alleged crimes to all 15,000 students, 3,000 employees and local news reporters. But what was different about MSU’s incidents compared to UM’s? Instead of an entire community resenting MSU and stereotyping athletes, or in their case—fraternity men, MSU’s alleged rapes became catalysts for change.

The University of Montana implemented similar programs—For example, the Student Activity Resource Center. Whether it’s bullying, intimidation, discrimination, or sexual or other violent assault, SARC is available to any and all students, and even provide a support line when necessary.

Changes have taken place that is set to get Missoula, particularly the University of Montana, back on track. The university has introduced new prevention programs and law enforcement officials have overhauled how they handle sexual assault complaints. In April, the contracts of Robin Pflugrad, who was Big Sky Conference college football coach of the year in 2011, and Athletic Director Jim O’Day were not renewed. The new football coach, Mick Delaney, has vowed to emphasize character over football.

The focus around response and prevention is where Missoula’s attention is concentrated. Whether its police and faculty training, or improvement of campus safety, the University of Montana refuses to hide from these incidents and has been working tirelessly to prevent future occurrences from happening.

But Missoula is aware of prevention tactics that have been set in place since before the rapes came to light. If it wasn’t for Jezebel.com, the Penn State scandal, and numerous other incidents across the nation occurring at around the same time, Missoula wouldn’t be facing the label of “Rape Capital” it now wears on its back. Even Bozeman goers have, for the most part, moved past the unfortunate incidents.

“Rape Capital” article author Katie J.M. Baker had never even been to Missoula before she wrote her article. She plagued small-town, friendly Missoula as a dark, crime filled city with rape, drunken college men who have no morals, and girls who are nothing short of “easy.”

Living in Missoula for over 10 years, and being a collegiate for three, I’ve witnessed the hardships the campus, as well as the town, has gone through. However, Missoula never fails to remember its roots and the people that belong to it.

“Missoulians are good people,” said local DJ personality Aaron Traylor. “The majority of us know what ‘no’ means ‘no.’ We do not take advantage of the people around us to fulfill our fleeting and selfish desires, we don’t dress a certain way to ‘get attention,’ and we most certainly are not alone. There are much more of us than you’d like for the others to believe.”

“I have lived here my entire life,” Missoulian reporter Jamie Kelly said. “I know my town inside and out and resent drive-by journalism written by agenda-driven ideologues who perform verbal hatchet-jobs on the town I love, at the expense of the one thing journalism should pursue. Truth.”

It ends now.

Missoula is not America’s so-called “Rape Capital.”

No longer will Missoula be labeled something we are ashamed of.

Especially from one-time visitors who know nothing about Missoula.

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