Justice Dept. Accuses Missoula County Prosecutors of Discrimination against Women

Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Fred Van Valkenburg (photo: Kurt Wilson, Missoulian, AP)

Prosecutors in a leading Montana county have been accused of discrimination and insensitivity toward women, including victims of sexual assault, according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).


The Justice Department released a report two years in the making after federal investigators began probing the Missoula County Attorney’s Office.


The investigation uncovered a “disturbing pattern of deficiencies” in the handling of cases involving women—“a pattern that not only denies victims’ meaningful access to justice, but places the safety of all women in Missoula at risk,” the DOJ said in a prepared statement.


Local prosecutors were accused of giving low priority to sexual assault cases and saying “terrible things” to victims of sexual assault. The allegations included one instance in which a prosecutor told a mother whose five-year-old daughter had been assaulted by an adolescent that “boys will be boys.”


Another case cited by the DOJ involved a woman who was raped, but prosecutors decided not to pursue charges, telling the victim, “All you want is revenge.”


County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg had previously argued in court that the DOJ had no jurisdiction to investigate his office, filing suit calling the inquiry unlawful.


His office said Valkenburg was unavailable for comment following the release of the DOJ report.


The DOJ said those serving under Valkenburg received inadequate training or information to properly investigate and prosecute sexual assault cases.


After receiving allegations two years ago of “systematically failing to protect women victims of sexual assault in Missoula,” the Justice Department opened investigations of the Missoula County Attorney’s office, the Missoula Police Department, and the University of Montana’s Office of Public Safety.


Local police and the university’s public safety office cooperated with the investigations, which were resolved last May.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Justice Department Finds Substantial Evidence of Gender Bias in Missoula County Attorney’s Office (U.S. Department of Justice)

Missoula County Prosecutor Biased Against Women Who Report Sexual Assault, DOJ Finds (by Mary Jacoby, Main Justice)

DOJ: Missoula County Attorney's Response To Sexual Assaults Puts All Women at Risk (by Kim Briggeman, Missoulian)


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