The University of Montana has been investigating at least five sexual assault cases that occurred on and off campus. At least two of the cases involve football players, and one of them was an alleged gang rape. Incidents suggest a disturbing pattern of normal underreporting the crime, combined with poor handling by university officials and special treatment for football players.
Here are three of the most shocking incidents. The first two involve members of the football team. The last is unresolved.
September 2010: A female student slept on the couch of Beau Donaldson, a Montana running back. She woke up after Donaldson pulled down her clothing and began having intercourse with her. The woman was examined after the incident, and eventually came forward to police in December 2011. Donaldson admitted what happened. He faces felony charges of sexual intercourse without consent.[Missoulian]
December 15, 2010: A female student reported a potential gang rape by four assailants, at least three were members of the Montana football team. The student attended a house party at the home of one of the players. She arrived at 5:45 pm, felt “really, really drunk” by 6:30. She was moved to a bedroom where she “drifted out of awareness as guys arrived and left.” A detective told the student she had “said yes” to all four men, the men affirmed they would never take advantage of a girl and “said they were sorry.” Police met with Montana’s head football coach. No charges were filed. [Missoulian]
Feb 16, 2011: An already intoxicated 19-year-old woman was given a coffee drink and encouraged to drink it by a friend. She remembers a group of men pointing and laughing at her. One mouthed “roofies.” She took off running and remembers nothing until she was found in the snow outside her dorm with her pants pulled down. She woke up the next morning bruised all over with black and blue knees and rug burns. “A hand had pressed down so hard on her mouth and face that an imprint was still visible.” University health official asked her if she was “sure she didn’t just fall down.” [Missoulian]
A preliminary report released by Montana Supreme Court Justice claims the University of Montana “appears to have a gap in reporting sexual assaults.” There are multiple factors at play.
An Underreported Crime: Studies estimate the percentage of rapes reported at between 14 and 32 percent. By the most conservative estimate, more than two thirds of cases are never even reported. Reporting a rape is an invasive process for a woman from just about every angle. There’s the social stigma, the exhaustive process and constant reliving the incident involved with a trial, the fear of reprisals, or a potentially complex personal relationship with the assailant. The rape kit itself is a grueling process. The criminal justice system also does a notoriously poor job handling such cases.
Even if cases are reported on a college campus, the process can be cumbersome, confusing and unresponsive and the results can be inconclusive. Montana, because of federal confidentiality laws, was not reporting suspected assaults to law enforcement, a fact some potential victims were not aware of.
A Mishandled Crime: Recent assault claims have been handled by Missoula police with a perceptible slant toward protecting accused male assailants. On more than one occasion, accusers were informed by detectives the alleged assailant apologized. A county attorney expressed concern that “filing charges rings a bell that cannot be unrung.”
Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir met with two women who complained about the treatment of their cases. In both cases he discussed the difficulty in prosecuting rape and cited a statistic showing false reporting in close to 50 percent of rape reports. In one case he later sent the woman an article entitled “False Rape Allegations: An Assault on Justice.” (Reports with a more precise definition of “false” place false reporting at between two and 10 percent.) One described herself as “disenchanted” and “distrustful” of the police. Another would advice “not to waste time going to the police.”
A female student slept on a male student’s couch so she would not have to walk home at night. She woke to the male student with her pants pulled down trying (according to her) to penetrate her. The police summary makes no mention of the attempted penetration. A detective told the woman the male student “cried and said he was sorry.”
Another female student brought a male student back to her dorm room. She revoked consent upon finding her roommate in the room with her boyfriend. She woke to an assault in progress. “I kept ripping his hand away,” she said. “He outweighs me significantly.” A physical examination showed signs of bleeding and genital injuries. No charges were filed directly related to the assault. Deputy Missoula County Attorney Kristen Pabst LaCroix testified on the accused’s behalf at a university hearing, stating she did not pursue the case because it was he said/she said and alcohol was involved. The male student was expelled.
Legal Aid: The school has helped football players obtain elite legal counsel when facing criminal charges. Montana’s executive VP Jim Foley was spotted bringing players to the law firm Datsopoulos, MacDonald and Lind described as “powerful” by the Montana media. According to the firm’s website, it donates to the University of Montana. Datsopoulos is the legal counsel for Beau Donaldson.
NCAA rules prevent the school from “providing” or “funding” legal counsel, but the school can give “recommendations.” Providing “recommendations” would have the University tacitly supporting the student accused against its own student accuser in a rape case.
[Photo via Getty]