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Katherine Redmond Headshot

An Alarming Trend at University of Montana

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After the Penn State scandal broke, I was asked if this was finally the tipping point. Would colleges now take sexual assault seriously? Specifically, those by athletes who, as campus and sometimes, national celebrities, seem to operate with relative impunity.

Doubtful. And a new case of a university run amok has emerged to serve as evidence.

This past December, a report that alleged that multiple football players at the University of Montana drugged and sexually assaulted two female students, rumored to be female athletes on campus. On January 7, running back Beau Donaldson was arrested for felony sexual intercourse without consent. He admitted it. The female allegedly blacked out and woke up to him raping her. Most recently, a female student came forward with her story of a Rohypnol rape on February 16 of last year. Her last recollection was a man mouthing "roofie" to her before she blacked out. A friend found her with her pants pulled down to her ankles, lying motionless on the cold, snowy ground outside the University of Montana's Jesse Hall. She reported her assault to the University Health Services and Rape Crisis Center. Nothing happened.

Another young woman came forward about being drugged and raped by members of the football team at an off-campus party in December of 2010 in which the school did not investigate. She filed a police report. No charges were filed and the university never even attempted to contact her.

UM Vice President Jim Foley claims that because the rape occurred off campus between UM students, the school will not investigate. To be clear, Title IX Federal Law still applies even if the sexual assault occurred off campus. While the university did not think it necessary to contact the victim -- a UM student, police have found the time and the impetus to reach out to the football coach. Evidently, the football coach is presumed to be the most affected.

In response to the initial rape allegation involving multiple football players against presumed female athletes, Foley brought in a former Supreme Court Justice, Diane Barz, to head an independent investigation. Barz was named a distinguished alumni of the University of Montana and who sat on the UM law school board of visitors. Though not finished with the "independent investigation," she reported that, "The University appears to have a gap in reporting sexual assaults."

While her appointment as investigator seems to be a conflict of interest, the "protect our team" mentality is evident. The Missoulian newspaper reports that VP Foley is seen personally walking charged athletes to the powerful law firm of Datsopoulos, MacDonald and Lind. Keep in mind, the NCAA specifically states that "an arrangement would not be precluded or a violation provided the firm or agency offers this type of service to other individuals (based upon non-athletics objective criteria) and the student-athlete initiates the contact with the firm or agency."

According to the firm, they frequently represent UM athletes. Milt Datsopoulos was quoted in the Missoulian during the arraignment for Donaldson, whom he represents, as saying, "There is no arrangement by which the firm represents athletes, and the university does not pay legal fees in cases where the firm does so."

If I am not mistaken, it appears he is saying that the firm takes the case pro-bono when the school won't pay the legal fees for the athletes. He continues, "It is true that our entire firm has been involved with the university over the years, with scholarships and donations that don't just have to do with athletics." Datsopoulos currently represents Donaldson and two UM football players who were charged with obstructing a peace officer, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after an Oct. 23 party at Johnson's apartment.

Foley reasons away the blatant violation of NCAA rules: "When high-profile student issues, or university issues raise their head in the public domain, we regularly meet to figure out how best the university can respond."

The women say police haven't been much help either. It was reported in the Missoulian that Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir was alleged to have spoken to the women about the difficulties of prosecuting sexual assaults. According to the Missoulian, Muir "cited research that showed false reporting in rape cases sometimes nears 50 percent." Interesting he cited a controversial and highly debated statistic, when many other legitimate studies point to an "unfounded" reporting rate of 2-8%, no different than any other crime and certainly not meeting the standard for false reporting. Interesting that he wouldn't cite that one in four women in college would be victim of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault. Most alarmingly, he reportedly closed his discussion with the women by providing them with an article from The Forensic Examiner journal titled "False Rape Allegations: An Assault on Justice.

The school also claims their hands are tied when it comes to these pesky rape allegations. They are not allowed to report them to police. If the school had a similar wave of murders, would the reaction be the same? Of course not. The point being that the school can do something. They can have an independent investigator, one not connected to the university. They can do their own investigation. They can even -- gasp -- suspend or expel the athletes accused of the crime. Title IX mandates suspension and expulsion if the students are a threat to the student body. Using Rohypnol to rape female students is a threat.

Women are slowly coming forward to talk about the systemic protection of athletes at the University of Montana by leaders at the university of Montana, as well as local law enforcement. Citizens have been calling the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes to ask what they can do to dismantle the pervasive environment in Missoula that protects athletes. The lack of institutional control of this university is alarming and, when it occurred at Penn State University, on the east coast, with a legendary coach and program in play, it shocked us all to ask, "How did this happen?" It's happening in Missoula, Montana, and no one outside of this isolated college town knows any better.

Today, the school will have a public meeting regarding the epidemic of rape drug use. Before thinking that this could only be a good thing, consider that the school has a wave of victims going to the media with information that, for once, university and city agents cannot control.