With the welcome news that the Department of Justice plans to investigate the handling of eighty rape reports in Missoula over the past few years, most officials in Missoula responded favorably, happy that the additional resources and expertise of the Department of Justice can help the city get a handle on the crisis.
Rather than welcoming the additional resources and opportunity to improve Missoula’s legal response to a culture that has enabled rape, County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg decided to attack the Department of Justice, in a rant that would not have been out of place during the 2011 Montana Legislature:
Fred Van Valkenburg denounced that action as an overreach by “the heavy hand of the federal government,” and insisted that his office has done nothing wrong.
That last line would be entirely correct, if only the word “wrong” were removed. The response to the series of sexual assaults in Missoula has been entirely inadequate and even damaging to women, as perpetrators have been allowed to flee the jurisdiction, charges have not been filed, and women have been told that their claims could very well be false.
criticized Justice Department officials for refusing to explain what triggered the investigation and said they’re “essentially sending a message to every local prosecutor in America” that they can be second-guessed. “That’s wrong, and undermines the dedicated hard work prosecutors are doing across America to fight crime.”
Actually, prosecutors get second-guessed all the time. It’s the nature of our legal system, which has multiple levels of appeals precisely because of issues like prosecutorial misconduct. That the Department of Justice feels the need to investigate the failures of law enforcement and prosecutors in Missoula, a decision supported by Missoula’s police chief and mayor, is far more important than Mr.Van Valkenburg’s ego.
Missoula needs to become safe for women again. That’s the bottom line. A legal culture that has permitted sexual assault and minimized its impact on individuals and the community as a whole absolutely demands scrutiny, something Mr.Van Valkenburg seems entirely incapable of.
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