The Department of Justice recently released a report on the Missoula, Montana Prosecutor’s Office after a two-year investigation that found “substantial evidence that the Prosecutor’s office is biased against victims of sexual assault.”
The report states that the Prosecutor declines to prosecute some cases in which it has confessions or eyewitnesses, including a case in which Missoula police obtained incriminating statements from a man who admitted to having sexual intercourse with a mentally ill woman. A clinical psychologist who had counseled numerous sexual-assault survivors in Missoula allegedly told the Justice Department that after she, herself, was sexually assaulted, she was reluctant to have her case prosecuted, given the "horrendous" stories she'd heard. When your office has a chilling affect that keeps victims from coming forward, you have a serious problem. The DOJ determined that the prosecutor's office declined to prosecute "nearly every case" involving non-stranger assaults on adult women who had a mental or physical disability, or who were intoxicated by drugs or alcohol. This is typical cherry-picking behavior that puts the prosecutor's political career ahead of justice for victims.
Seeing case after case go unprosecuted ripples through the community- why report rape if you know even with physical evidence and a confession, that the rapist will never see trial, much less a prison cell? In his novel Aftershock, Andrew Vachss writes in detail about the effects of primary and secondary rape trauma. Primary trauma effects the victim; secondary trauma effects the nurses, counselors, therapists who see rape after rape, and little or no action from the justice system. I’d like to suggest tertiary rape trauma also exists. Growing up in a society where your chances of being raped are 1 in 5, where you are likely to be blamed for your rape, and where rapists are less likely to be prosecuted than you are to be raped, is a stressor in itself. A low-grade infection caused by the syndrome of a culture more obsessed with judging victims than prosecuting perpetrators.
Photo by Devon Buchanan
Perhaps the most egregious was sentencing an adolescent who raped a 5 year old girl to 2 years of community service as punishment for his crime. When the mother complained, their response was “boys will be boys.” Any prosecutor who compares the rape of a 5 year old to boyhood tomfoolery has no business dealing with cases of sexual violence, and this is just the tip of the clueless iceberg afloat in this office. The Missoula Prosecutor’s response? To sue the DOJ.
The University of Montana and the Missoula Police Department have both entered into agreements with the DOJ to beef up policies that will combat rape. But Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg says, “I think that everything the DOJ is saying about our office is false. These people are as unethical as any I have ever seen. They obviously have a political agenda they want to push and the truth does not matter to them.” If this is tacit agreement with calling child rape typical boyhood behavior, then Van Valkenburg hasn’t got a clue. If you can bring a case against the DOJ for calling out your terrible policies, you can put the rapist of a 5 year old girl behind bars instead of giving him community service. Right, Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg? Or are you too busy playing “big government” politics to further your own career?
Thomas Pluck is a writer living in New Jersey. His work has appeared in The Utne Reader, The Morning News, Crimespree Magazine, McSweeney’s, Criminal Element, and elsewhere. He is the author of Blade of Dishonor and dozens of short stories, and the editor of Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT. You can follow him on Twitter as @thomaspluck