When a rape victim went public with her story earlier this year, Jim Foley, Vice President of the University of Montana, sent an email asking if she could be punished under the Student Code of Conduct.
To native Montanans (disclaimer: I am one of them) Missoula is considered the uniquely liberal center of a majority red state—and the University of Montana is seen by most as the epicenter of culture in this college town. UM is known for its strength in liberal arts/humanity courses and its focus on the arts. But what makes it stand out is its more progressive stance on social issues. Most relevant here, UM is unique in Montana for its feminist community—the Women’s Center on campus (amazing that it even exists in Montana) explicity boasts the f-word in its mission. While this might not seem groundbreaking to some, the acceptance and promotion of feminism in the most socially liberal city in the state means that Missoula is bit a different from the rest of Montana. Therefore, it would definitely not come to mind for me as the “Rape Capital of Montana,” let alone the “Rape Capital of America.”
When the U.S. Department of Justice came forward to announce its investigation of the more than 80 rapes that were reported in Missoula in the last three years, I don’t think I was the only person who was surprised. But as the story unfolded with the allegations of gender discrimination by the Missoula Police Department, the lack of action by the Missoula County Attorney’s office, and—saddest of all—the attempted cover-up and victim-blaming from the University of Montana, Missoula was shown to be far from the city that many Montana women’s rights activists thought it was.
The real story regarding the UM’s actions in the cover-up came this spring when the Missoulian (the city’s newspaper) obtained emails from the University of Montana administrators under the Freedom of Information Act. The most condemning of these were from the school’s VP Jim Foley who was in charge of the University PR surrounding these allegations:
- In his email exchanges, Foley wrote that the term “gang rape” (being used to describe the alleged sexual assault by several UM football players of two female students) should be changed to “date rape” instead in any UM official documents—implying that “date rape” would work out better for the UM in the media than the term “gang rape.”
- When a Missoula police officer who had originally contacted the University as a private citizen from a personal account asking “stop this spiraling PR mess and take action instead of trying to defend your actions,” Foley ignored it and furthered his douchery by demanding an apology from the officer.
- An email was found that showed Foley delayed the release of the UM’s final report on the sexual allegations because he feared it would look bad if they were released on the same day as news that a restraining order had been filed against the UM football team’s quarterback for rape allegations.
- The biggest act of douchebaggery was when Foley tried punish a victim for coming forward with her story. When a student went public about her rape by a fellow student, Foley sent an email to Charles Couture, the then Dean of Students, asking, “Is it not a violation of the student code of conduct for the woman to be publicly talking about the process and providing details about the conclusion?”
Jim Foley more than earns a Douchebag Decree for his actions surrounding the sexual allegations in Missoula. Instead of taking these terribly sad circumstances as an opportunity to stand with survivors and hold those responsible accountable, he furthered the injustice.
While Missoula might be doing some things right by being socially progressive on certain issues, the reality is that it is not immune to the rape culture we live in. What happened in Missoula and the UM—especially the actions of Jim Foley—is intolerable, but I wouldn’t be too quick to say that what’s happening there that isn’t happening everywhere. The fact that this information did come to light and that people are holding others accountable does say something about Missoula that doesn’t fit with the “Rape Capital” claims—not all of Missoula is complicit about these actions, and the badass reporting from Missoulian demonstrates that. Most critically, the brave survivors who came forward to report the injustices done to them haven spoken out and are taking a stand that what happened will not be tolerated. Although it’s not always safe and prudent for survivors to come forward, these survivors did come forward to show that many people in Missoula do think that rape is unjust. While rape might be a problem in Missoula, it is a problem EVERYWHERE and we should all be willing to call out anyone who is complicit in the tolerance of sexual assault—both perpetrators and those who revictimize and blame survivors. This means you, Jim Foley. Douchebag.