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Montana Politics

Kirsten Pabst, Missoula County Attorney, on Consent

I’m only nine chapters into Jon Krakauer’s Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, but it’s riveting and horrifying. While I suspect I will have more to write once I’ve finished, right now I’m totally sickened and furious. The failure to investigate and prosecute sexual assault, not to mention tackle the culture that permitted it, was unconscionable.

And it I were a person who lived in Missoula, I’d be terrified to know that Kirsten Pabst now decides what cases get prosecuted. During her volunteer effort to defend an accused rapist at the University of Montana, she displayed an opinion on sexual consent to the University Court that was unimaginable:

So even if you’d given it previously, that doesn’t count if you’re asleep, right?” “Correct,” Pabst replied. A moment later, however, she hedged: “Well, it depends. That’s not really a hard-and-fast rule. But some people would argue that if I go home with someone and we say, ‘Well, we’re going to go have sex,’ and then I fall asleep and wake up and he’s having sex with me—some people would say that’s consensual, and some people would say it’s not.” The questioner followed up: “What does the law say?” “I don’t know the answer to that,” Pabst answered. “There is no hard-and-fast rule.”


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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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  • The thing I found horrifying was the fact that this vastly underreported crime was reported 92 times in the 5 years leading up to the DOJ investigation and not a single case was ever charged by the County Attorney’s office (which included Miz Pabst). Then when all of a sudden the DOJ investigation – a case was brought and guess who decided to jump ship to defend the suspect in the case! One of the illustrious Assistant County Attorneys – Miz Pabst. I smelled a rat. She won her case – the rapist was acquitted. She immediately gave up being a defense attorney and was welcomed back into the COA’s office.

    Then, the COA’s office refused to go along with the reforms recommended by the DOJ, in fact they announced they were going to sue the DOJ for infringing on the COA’s “rights”!

    They finally backed down when the community uproar over the money they planned on spending on this stupid effort grew too large and settled – very very grudgingly.

    Then the election. All we had to choose from was a kettle from the COA’s office, including Miz Pabst. Ugh. And the candidate statements from some of the others were even worse than hers if you can believe it.

  • To be honest, it is difficult for me to accept Krakauer’s depiction of Missoula’s justice system. It is too painful. Hell, we’re the most progressive town in Montana; a bastion of social justice and feminism. How could this happen?

    I know some of the principals in the book and I am sickened, confused and somewhat in denial that they could be so callous toward the victims. Nor can I believe that Missoula affirms a “rape culture,” or that Grizzly players are exempt from rape charges (although it appears that some are and some aren’t).

    I have only read excerpts and followed others’ posts and comments. I need to read the book, and I will, but I’ll need to prepare myself emotionally.

    Some good will come of this, I know: a radical change in how we acknowledge sexual assault and educate against it, and how we prosecute it. I hope we can get past this nightmare and become a beacon in the fight against sexual assault, although I imagine the nightmare for the victims is ongoing.

    I remember when Billings was hit with a number of anti-Semitic incidents. The folks there banded together, put menorahs in their windows and came up with the phrase “Not In Our Town.” We need to adopt that mentality as it relates to rape in Missoula: “Not In Our Town.”

    P.S. #1 I find that Missoulian reporter Keila Szpaller is following in reporter Gwen Florio’s footsteps and doing an exceptional job of covering this issue.

    P.S. #2 I did not vote for Kirsten Pabst.

  • Missoula may be a bastion of social justice and feminism. But it’s also a hotbed of cronyism and insider back scratching. God forbid if you’re on the outside looking in, or challenge the way things are.

    That’s how it could happen.

  • I’m almost done with the book. I lived in Missoula for 10+ years. I loved it. My former boss is “best friends” with Kirsten. I met her once prior to all of this & thought what a great feminist role model. Boy, was I wrong. What a feminist & humanist nightmare. She seems pretty horrible to me now.

  • Kirsten Pabst does not represent women. She does not represent victims. She represents her own self- interests, which appear to be power related, very similar to the ego of a rapist. If she ever read To kill a Mockingbird & actually had the intelligence to understand it, she’d know that you fight for what is morally right, not for what you believe you can win or lose. Missoula is in grave danger indeed.

  • Why has no one filed a complaint against Pabst and David Paoli? Lawyers have a bad reputation and these two do nothing to make the profession more trustworthy. I give them 0/0 stars and four enthusiastic thumbs down.

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