Investigator: Sexual Assault at UM Went Unreported

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – An investigation into allegations of sexual assault at the University of Montana has found evidence of non-consensual sex going unreported at the university, according to a report released Tuesday.

Former Montana Supreme Court Justice Diane Barz was hired by the university to review allegations that two female students were given a date-rape drug and sexually assaulted by male students. University officials had asked her to complete the review by the end of the year.

But in the three-page status report dated Dec. 31, Barz said further investigation was needed, in part because two alleged victims were not cooperating.

Barz’s report said she had not found any evidence of the date-rape drug Rohypnol being used, but there was evidence of a sexual assault that had not been appropriately reported and investigated by the university.

The report did not provide specifics, but was critical of the university’s response, saying UM is required to take “immediate and appropriate action to investigate or otherwise determine what has occurred if it knows or reasonably should know of possible sexual violence.”

“The university appears to have a gap in reporting sexual assaults,” Barz’s report said.

University officials said in a statement that the report is preliminary and the university is aggressively pursuing the investigation.

“As the report indicates, we do not have specific evidence implicating anyone at this time,” UM president Royce Engstrom said in the statement.

Barz was working with UM Dean of Students Charles Couture and UM Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office Director Lucy France in conducting the investigation. She said in the report that a full investigation into possible ongoing sexual harassment at the university should take more than 60 days to complete.

The probe will look at patterns of student conduct involving alcohol, use of illegal drugs and illegal use of prescription drugs. More than 30 people have been interviewed, but Barz wrote that many more students need to be interviewed.

Barz said before she began her investigation, reporters had found the names of two alleged victims and contacted one of them. Neither alleged victim is cooperating with the investigation, with the women who was contacted blaming the university for violating her privacy, and the other “reluctant to proceed,” the report said.

Barz recommended that the university create a website that addresses sexual assault issues and other crimes, citing Syracuse University’s Department of Public Safety’s website as an example.