News & Features

More Rapes Being Reported, Prosecuted in Missoula

The police department agreed in May 2013 to improve its handling of sexual assault cases

MISSOULA — The Missoula police department has shown an “exceptional effort” in improving its response to reports of sexual assault and is on track to be in full compliance with its U.S. Department of Justice agreement by next spring, a report by a law enforcement consultant said.

Consultant Thomas Tremblay said more rape victims appear to be willing to work with police, a higher percentage are seeing the cases through and 11 percent more rapes were prosecuted in 2013 compared with 2012, the Missoulian reported. However, limited data on the outcome of those cases were available.

The police department agreed in May 2013 to improve its handling of sexual assault cases after the Justice Department investigated allegations of gender bias by Missoula and University of Montana police and the Missoula County attorney’s office. The city denied all allegations of gender bias.

Tremblay’s report noted that Missoula had 31 rape reports in 2012 and 56 in 2013, an increase of 80 percent. It notes that sexual assault is one of the most under-reported violent crimes and that the increased reporting rates do not always indicate an increase in sexual assaults.

In 2012, 48 percent of people alleging they had been raped decided to discontinue the reporting process. That number fell to 39 percent in 2013, the report said. During the same time, the number of rapes reported by third parties or anonymously increased by 316 percent over 2012 numbers.

In 2013, the police department initiated new reporting options that allow initial reports to be made anonymously or by a third party, which then allows the victims time to decide if they want to pursue a criminal investigation.

The increased reporting “suggests that the new reporting options are having their desired effect,” the report notes.

Victim advocates were concerned that some might end their cooperation with law enforcement following news coverage of their cases.

Police and other groups that aid sexual-assault victims want to talk with media outlets to discuss balancing the freedom of the press with community concern, the report said.

Missoula is in full compliance with 19 of 24 requirements of its agreement with the Justice Department, the report said. Police Chief Mike Brady said the remaining requirements involve a survey and a community audit that are underway. He expected Justice Department oversight to end in June 2015.

Groups and agencies that work with sexual-assault victims believe the agreement is having its intended effect, “but feel that the real measurement will be what happens after the agreement ends,” the report said.