Update: Miles City Survivors and the Adults Who Are Still Failing Them

Please view my previous post on the Miles City Abuse story. This is an update on where the case is legislatively, lawmaker’s weakness, and the adults who who are still failing these survivors. 

The forced compromise bill, which falls short of where we need to be, is moving forward through the Legislature. This bill was crafted by the House Judiciary under the warnings of the Insurance lobby — which appears to have complete control over the Montana GOP. The talking points from the Insurance lobby have become the pat response by all MTGOP legislators since Representative Bill Mercer’s meeting with the plaintiffs and their attorneys. The MTGOP have a fear of insurance companies and a fear that Montanans are lining up to false report past sex crimes.

  • Myth: False claims of past abuse will drive up insurance rates – a claim that is ignorant of the fact that sex crimes are falsely reported at the same rate as ANY OTHER CRIME.
  • Even if insurance companies have to pay out claims, that’s why institutions have policies in the first place; and a negligible insurance increase amount to help survivors with counseling, financial satisfaction, etc is just the right damn thing to do.
  • The insurance lobby doesn’t want an overly litigious society – apparently it’s OK to allow corporations to dictate justice and financial compensation, not our Montana lawmakers, or those victimized by criminals.

Take a gander at Mercer talking about why he insisted on limiting the civil statute of limitations in the compromise bill (begins at 00:13:20):

If Mercer was interested in a more fact-based assessment of child sexual abuse, he would know that the “Good Touch, Bad Touch” model of educating youth about sexual assault and abuse is painfully outdated and is not effective at protecting youth. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has excellent, fact-based and tested school programs for educating youth about sexual assault that would do Mercer a world of good. If he did any research outside of the Insurance lobby, he would also know that 9 other states have eliminated the statute of limitations for civil cases and their insurance rates have not drastically increased. Huh. I wonder if Mercer has a conflict of interest as a multi-state corporate lawyer for years protecting businesses as a partner in Holland & Hart, LLC – is there a chance there’s some insurance company pressure being exerted? More research would also educate Mercer that most child victims of sexual assault report on average at age 52. Sure, he wants to “incentivize” them to report sooner – but what HE wants and the reality survivors live with are two very different ages and things.

The survivors of the Miles City abuse (32 strong men on record) received the same garbage talking points on their home turf during Transmittal Break when Miles City’s legislative representatives held a town hall at the local community college. Representatives Frederick “Eric” Moore and Kenneth Holmlund both doubled down on the false claims talking point – a direct slap in the face to the former students who came forward. Moore erroneously claims that home owner insurance rates will “skyrocket” (a completely unsubstantiated claim; something that has NOT happened in the other 9 states where this is already civil law). Over and over, these two representatives admit to being be bullied by the Insurance lobby.

The following video begins at the timestamp of the questions regarding the Miles City case and the statute of limitations bill (01:26:00):

Another point made by both Legislators at this event was their support of compensation for the survivors; that they believe some financial satisfaction should be attained — but their efforts directly oppose the one financial avenue that sexual assault survivors have: civil suits. It’s time to shatter the false narratives of “skyrocketing insurance rates” and fake victims out for a payday – Montanans don’t have time for these myths and the Miles City survivors did not deserve this ridicule.

A new court filing on Friday showcased that many of the survivors in the Miles City case attempted to tell adults in their lives and at the school about what was happening. The statements presented to the court from past educators and coaches paints a picture of failure and inaction. Principal at the time Fred Anderson (now a state legislator we’ve discussed previously) has still not seized the opportunity to make it right – to be a voice for removing the civil statute of limitations. Each and every time, the survivors were let down by adults in power, adults in positions to take action, and adults they trusted to protect them.

Representatives in Helena need to examine the facts of this case as well as the reality of sexual assault reporting before they make a decision regarding the civil statute of limitations. For years, the Miles City students tried to report to adults in their lives, and for years they were not believed. Mercer, Moore, Anderson, and I can only assume the MTGOP as a whole, want survivors to be “incentivized” to report quickly – but the evidence in front of us shows that quick reporting did nothing in this case in the 1980s and 1990s. The MTGOP is banking on all of the facts we know about sexual assault and survivors to magically change to conform to their master: the Insurance lobby.

It’s time that Montanans demand that their legislators listen.

It’s time for voters to demand that legislators make fact-based decisions and only follow one master: the People.

It isn’t too late to change the compromise bill. It isn’t too late to send a message to other survivors that we are listening, that we hear you, that even though you were silenced for decades, there is justice and satisfaction for you.

There is still time to do the right thing – amend HB640.


Read the text of HB640.

Contact the whole House Judiciary here.


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About the author

Plains Feminist

Montana and national politics from a Southeastern Montana perspective, focusing on regional activism, womxn’s issues, LGBTQ equality, education, and revitalization of the Montana Democratic Party. Plains Feminist tries (sometimes fruitfully, sometimes not so much) to connect with the hard-working folks who *eek* out a living on the “not mountains” side of the state. Plains Feminist enjoys intellectual banter over coffee or beer preferably after dark. You can reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @PlainsFeminist.

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