It’s Time for People To Be Fired In Missoula

I just had the opportunity to read the Missoulian’s story on the ongoing rape crisis in Missoula. As unbelievably bad as the response from the University, Police Department, and city have been up to this point, the newly released e-mails reveal a culture hostile to women who reported rape and more interested in public relations than justice or even safety.

Heads need to roll. Not for the sake of UM’s reputation, not for the abstract pursuit of justice, but to ensure that Missoula is no longer a community that tolerates this kind of behavior from people entrusted with protecting public and student safety.

No one who believes that it’s appropriate to accuse rape victims of lying deserves to serve in a job committed to public safety. No one who believes it’s appropriate to punish a rape victim for having the courage to go public should serve in a position involved with students.

Huge credit to the Missoulian for investing the resources to get these e-mails. Read jhwygirl’s take over at 4and20blackbirds.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • Whatever you do, Pogie, don’t tell Missoulians that they might actually be responsible for this mess. It must certainly be someone else’s fault. Let’s say Foley, or maybe Engen. Certainly no idea or person that Missoulians had a hand in promoting …

    To those who’ve actually paid attention, these issues go back decades. This is not a new outrage. My question is this: can Missoula overcome it’s moral arrogance and actually change the culture that’s been built over a quarter century? My pessimistic assessment is “no”. The people who could change things are never to be even remotely responsible. It certainly must be someone else.

    I’m going to make a prediction I will likely take some flak for, but I stand behind it nonetheless. The next Montana town that will fall to the far right is Missoula. And those who struggle against such will blame everyone else given their failure. Truly I hope that I’m wrong. I doubt I am.

  • expressing the need for accountability of leadership does not exclude individual action as one disingenuous commenter seems to be insinuating. both are needed, and both can happen simultaneously. part of beginning to address the cultural baggage is to demand new leadership to begin working on shifting institutional priorities. at the same time, go to events like the slut walk:

    as for the Missoula bashing and prognostication of partisan consequences, that’s not what this is about. those who take it there are being counterproductive and opportunistic.

    • Let’s be clear, poet. These issues plagued Missoula a very long time ago. Some of us, a few, complained about such well before your poet ass ever moved to this town. Quit pretending that your arrival marked the outrage. It didn’t, nor would it.

  • Lizard’s left handed insult to Rob aside (he is a big boy and quite capable of speaking for himself), I find the situation in Missoula to be beyond words. Understand that I have a daughter attending UM right now so I have been keeping quite a bit of attention on the situation.

    What disturbs me most is that it now it has spawned a Federal Investigation due to the lack of action taking by the various parties involved. Why should this federal action be needed?

    As far as the situation spanning decades, it does, regardless of how much you dislike the messenger. We are from the area, remember? It is certainly not a problem confined only to Missoula, but it is a situation that exists there. I don’t think that Rob was insinuating any insult on the City of Missoula in General, but you have to ask yourself… “How comfortable are you sending your daughter to UofM?”. In my case, the answer would certainly be VERY uncomfortable. I am glad that she lives offcampus and is armed with a very large handgun that she is more than capable of using.

    • well, what I find most disturbing is how women who report being raped get blamed—not just by law enforcement (I know one person who is a part of the 80 case review), but by their peers as well. and if it’s not overt blame, then it’s a more broad, cultural indifference to the prevalence of sexual assaults that happen, the majority being perpetrated by assailants the victims have some familiarity with.

  • I understand Rob’s frustration with moral arrogance; it’s a common annoyance of towns where academia has a powerful influence. But there’s a much bigger issue here, and it’s certainly not limited to Missoula, or college towns. For all the progress that has been made in women’s rights, that assertiveness in women’s rights (like the slut walk you mentioned) has a certain backlash, both among young men who have decided that those women have gone too far, and who would never rat out a ‘bro’ for the sake of a ‘hoe’.

    I observe it frequently with my male students, which is unnerving, and a certain acceptance of it from my female students, which is in many ways more so. I really think part of the key is empowering young women, making it easier for them to feel confident independent of men (which I think Pogie has written about This is not only important for the women who later find themselves in circumstances where they are at risk, but also for their peers, whose opinions largely determine whether sexual assaults are tolerated or reported and dealt with.

    With my little sister attending UM, that’s very scary to me – to think that she could be subjected to this same attitude. Until the culture changes, immediate and firm enforcement is all the more important.

    • The problem with moral arrogance is part and parcel of what you refer to as the bigger issue. Pointing out that moral arrogance exists is not an accusation of immorality against it’s supporters. Those who rely on that righteous ego often use that illusion to vilify critique, in the manner of “you’re blaming us yet we are righteous, so it must be you who are flawed”. The Catholic church has used that fallacy with great effectiveness.

      Moral arrogance truly isn’t an immorality, but rather a denial, one that most of us engage in at points in our lives. In terms of a broader culture, that denial can become ingrained and most certainly influence the more general thinking. Missoula has a great deal that it needs to address, not because it’s a ‘bad place’, but because it has denied that such issues need to be dealt with for too long.

      Far be it from me not to offer specific examples:

      Through much of the last 3 decades, Missoula in a general sense has denied that it is a ‘blue collar’ city. It was built on the wood products industry, and the transportation that supported that. That is undeniable in the same manner that Helena can’t deny that it was built on mining and then government. Yet Missoula tries to reject that legacy, in the same manner that Helena embraces it’s mining roots.

      Missoula’s growth has been focused on the outlying valleys, and yet the city itself perpetuates the conflict that has always existed between city and county government, and the storm that it is building in the surrounding valleys. On any given day, the official population of Missoula swells almost by double with people who are supported by and support the city itself. Yet the concerns of these people are quite often denied in favor of the Missoula image. No city in Montana is more surrounded by people more hostile to the ‘values’ the city itself presents, yet the city itself is supported by those very people. That is evidence of the very denial that moral arrogance affords.

      Until very recently, the relationship between the U of M and the city was one of antagonism. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that these recent developments show that the relationship between those entities hasn’t improved a great deal.

      The reactions we are seeing from Van Valkenburg and Engen are a direct result of the denial that tends to permeate a town which has positioned itself as the liberal alternative to Billings. Missoula is Montana’s shining star. Seriously, given that as a directive for effort, how could either one of them really have foreseen these events happening? How could they have been prepared? I’m not defending either one of them, especially because they both show a will to support the very myopia which has lead to this federal interference in the first place. Read what they’ve written or hear what they’ve said and what comes out is “this couldn’t happen in our town”. It could happen in any town, especially those who think it couldn’t. I like Mayor Engen. But he had a big ole blind spot that he was handed from the get go.

      That is the culture that directly affects Missoula. It goes well beyond just a predilection for and masking of rape. It is an idea that allows fantasy to gain strength. Missoula is a ‘special place’. No, it’s really not. It is a great place, and could be one of the best. But it is about time that it gets over its denial and starts to deal with the issues it hasn’t before. The backlash you write of, The Polish Wolf, is a direct result of urging fantasy to be the norm as opposed to examination of real problems with real solutions.

  • Missoula is where you go, who you talk to. those who peddle this beautiful valley as some idyllic liberal enclave are as guilty of trying to box up and label this town’s diversity as some axe-grinder who hands out blanket accusations of moral arrogance.

    JC has a post worth reading about image and truth. there is lots of defensiveness being expressed by those who take a part in manufacturing the image.

    • “Axe grinding” or not, JC wrote nothing more than I have, and in fact considerably less. He takes his ire out on the Missoula Independent, and well he should when they defend the very moral arrogance you seem pissed at me for having the temerity to point out. The key to that, Lizard, is that an image has to exist in consciousness for it to be defended. The Missoula Independent didn’t create that image. Neither did Fred Van Valkenburg, President Engstrom or Mayor Engen. Pat Williams I would say is probably a bit more culpable, and kudos to Duganz for noticing it – finally.

      What’s amusing to me is that you, yourself, passively defend that same image of Missoula. “Missoula is where you go, who you talk to.” As tribal feelgoody as that reads, no, that isn’t what Missoula is at all. If it is, then Baker’s expose is spot on, and my opinion is that she has it nailed. Missoula has a culture that defends rape, and hides it behind a wall of moral arrogance. But first and foremost, Missoula is a city with an organizational structure, several ‘competing’ governing bodies, and no clear policy of leading in any direction at all, save protecting the image of importance which is the greatest defense for a culture of rape. Baker’s interviews all show that to be true. ‘Yeah there’s some sluts and our football is cool, but what a great town’. That Missoula’s leadership and press defend that very view isn’t an outrage, as you seem to think. It’s the very norm you say defines the place.

      It is sad to me, and yet funny at the same time, that you are so willing to go out of your way to defend Missoula against villains like me, who have written nothing more than the obvious. You internalize my lack of respect for you, JC and others as being a will to denigrate Missoula, your home, your sanctuary, your place. Let me tell you a story, Lizard. Way on back about 27 years ago, a good friend of mine was raped by her boyfriend. The response of the Missoula police was that it couldn’t have been rape, ’cause he was her boyfriend. Back about 30 years ago, I was robbed at work by a guy with a gun. I provided a good description of the guy, a full description of the tattoo on his arm, the make and model of the getaway car and the license plate number. The response of the Missoula detectives was that I had stolen the money and they just couldn’t figure out how I walked out of the store with it. About 25 years ago, a woman who worked with me was beaten by her husband; and when she reported it the police countered with the question of what she had done to deserve it. The one thing common to all three of these incidents was the idea that ‘these bad things don’t happen in Missoula, so it must be the fault of the victim’. You seem more than willing to embrace and endorse that kind of thinking. I love Missoula. Always have, though I think it could do with less folk such as yourself. What is clear is that these are not new phenomenon only to be noticed when Lizard moved to Missoula, nor is anyone else pointing such out just grinding an axe because Lizard is just that intimidatingly moral. Your defensiveness is playing a role in manufacturing the image of Missoula. It is greatly hypocritical in the face of those who are “outside”, as JC put it.

  • I’ been out working on a fence for a while, but it just keeps bugging me.

    Somehow I doubt that the victims of Missoula’s culture of rape are all that comforted by knowing that their online champions bravely avoid using their own real names.

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