Deal reached in Mont. university sex-assault probe

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — Federal officials reached agreements with the University of Montana after a yearlong investigation into mishandled sexual assault reports on campus that require the university to revise its policies and adequately respond to allegations, federal officials said Thursday.

Investigators heard from women who were assaulted then unfairly belittled, disbelieved or blamed for speaking up about what was done to them, said U.S. Attorney for Montana Michael Cotter.

The problems found during the investigation were real and significant, he said.

The investigation began after 11 assaults involving university students were reported over an 18-month period. Federal attorneys said on May 1, 2012, that they would also look at sexual assaults reported across Missoula over three years.

Investigators were examining whether gender discrimination affected the response by the university and law enforcement.

The two agreements — one with the university and the other with the campus police force — will enable all women to enjoy the full educational benefits of the university, Cotter said.

The agreement with the university requires the school to provide a grievance procedure for the prompt resolution of sexual harassment and assault allegations and to respond to allegations of retaliation by students who make assault claims.

Additionally, the university must act to eliminate a hostile environment based on gender, ensure adequate training and make sure students know that sex-discrimination is prohibited.

The Department of Justice agreement with campus police requires it to improve its response to sexual assault and work with independent groups to develop the reforms detailed.

Campus police also must show the agency has put into place systems to prevent practices of constitutional violations and gather data to assess sexual-assault reports.

The university anticipates it will comply with the agreement within two years, according to federal officials.

The problems found at the University of Montana and the settlement will become the “gold standard” for other schools to follow, said Deputy Assistant Attorney General Roy Austin Jr.

University and Missoula police officials previously said they implemented new policies and training on sexual assault awareness and prevention even before the Justice Department investigation.

The investigation into the city and county prosecutor’s handling of sexual-assault allegations is ongoing, officials said.

Federal investigators visited both the university and the police department last summer, conducting one-on-one interviews. They have since provided no updates, except to say the investigation was ongoing.

Enrollment at the school for the spring semester was 14,201, a decline of 505 students. University spokeswoman Peggy Kuhr said in March the main reason for the drop was student financial situations, but the publicity over the investigation also may have been a factor.

Over the past year, former University of Montana running back Beau Donaldson pleaded guilty to sexual intercourse without consent in a 2010 case.

A jury earlier this year acquitted starting quarterback Jordan Johnson of a rape charge, with Johnson saying he had consensual sex with an acquaintance.

A U.S. Department of Education investigation was folded into the Justice Department probe last year.

The NCAA has been investigating the Grizzlies football team since the end of January 2012 for unspecified allegations, but there has been no update in that investigation.

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