By TRUDI FISHER/Montana State News
At the University of Montana in Missoula, in the wake of the Penn State Football child sexual abuse scandal, UM Grizzly athletes and members of Greek life have been accused of sexual misconduct.
This has drawn national attention to the state and how its public universities handle sexual assault.
A full-scale investigation into the way UM handles its sexual assault cases was concluded by former state Supreme Court Justice Diane Barz recently. Her investigation was prompted by a report of several males engaging in forced sexual assault on a female.
The report found a “gap” in the timeframe of the reports from the school. The time it takes the school to file a formal report is not as immediate as it should be, Barz found.
Furthermore, the report concluded the school has an ambiguous policy on rape and sexual assault investigations, reporting and the responsibility that the school has in the cases reported to them. Many students who are victims of sexual assault on campus are not fully informed of their rights or options, claimed one student in an interview with a local newspaper.
Many cases are still unresolved, and several have been thoroughly investigated, but questions still have been raised about the safety of students on campus. After this investigation, students can be more aware of their available choices in these types of situations.
While University of Montana officials have been scrambling to fix problems with the reporting of rape and sexual assault on their campus, in Bozeman, Montana State University has long had an organization on campus to help students who are victims.
The MSU VOICE Center (Victims Options in the Campus Environment) has had a vocal and consistent presence on campus and educates all incoming freshman on available services but, perhaps most importantly, on how to identify an abusive relationship and what can be done about it.
The VOICE Center aims to empower survivors of sexual assault and educate students on the rights they have, including the right to be unafraid in a relationship and to remain anonymous when they talk with someone at the center.
The VOICE Center gives students access to many services, including 24-hour phone support, but also provides contact information for other services in the Bozeman community, such as the police department, health services, emergency shelter, legal services, the dean of students and several other resources that can help a survivor of sexual assault.
The center is available by phone, visits to their office in the Strand Union Building on campus and via their website which also lists ways that students can be involved, volunteer and even be trained as peer advocates.
Another of the vocal groups on the MSU campus is Men Against Rape. This organization is made up of MSU students dedicated to educating other students, both men and women, on the options they have to take a stand against rape and provide safe environments for women.
Students Against Sexual Assault (SASA) is another group on campus that anyone can join. SASA also works toward providing a safe environment through events and education.
Last week, the national chapter of Men Against Rape visited the University of Montana campus to open the discussion of rape and the options students have for combating it.UM also hosted an open forum with students so opinions could be voiced about campus policies. The UM equivalent to MSU’s VOICE Center is called the Curry Student Assault Resource Center.
The VOICE Center at Montana State University participates in many campus events and is well known as a safe place to go for assistance.
Montana law spells out what is appropriate action to be taken by its state schools in cases of sexual assault. These laws have recently been in the spotlight and because of this, the VOICE Center at MSU has posted the latest information on its website so all students to have quick and easy access to it.
While MSU has a history of carefully dealing with victims and educating the many new students who attend the university each year, the University of Montana is scrambling to catch up, beginning with the functionality of its website and ease of access to important information.
The improvement in educating students on the UM campus might soon increase greatly, with the help of their student body, new state laws and national organizations.
Websites that can be visited through Montana State University:
At University of Montana:
*Each website has additional links to other resources and information.
Edited by Susan Andrus