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2020 Auditor Communities Education Montana Legislature Montana Politics

Miles City Survivors: A Resolution, and the Work That Still Needs to Be Done

Survivors win.
Today the Billings Gazette announced that the Miles City School District has settled for $9 million with the 32 plaintiffs of the Miles City sex abuse case.

Take a moment and thank these 32 brave men who chose to step forward, who chose to do the right thing when authority figures in their lives ignored them, who took steps at the Legislative level to make sure this doesn’t happen to other Montana kids, and who made sure a predator was off the streets. Even after they knew that a jury trial would end in their favor and a compensation package awarded, again the survivors chose to put the community and the people of Miles City before themselves: they chose to not take this to a slam-dunk trial in case the settlement exceeded the insurance payout amount. The survivors chose to ensure that the mistakes of the former school administrators would not fall on the current Miles City taxpayers.

They deserve our thanks for making many difficult decisions.

These 32 individuals also exposed a level of political laziness and subservience that has not been corrected by the voters and the public. It is now our responsibility to take up the mantle and fight the following battles for them and for Montanans:

A battle against the MTGOP’s subservience to the insurance lobby. As previously referenced in this blog and by the Billings Gazette, the MTGOP is beholden to the insurance lobby. MTGOP members regularly defend the needs of insurance companies over the well-being of Montanans; informing us plebs that “that’s just the way it is”; a party line decision to place corporations above Montanans. In this video clip we witness two of Miles City’s legislators, Frederick “Eric” Moore (HD-37) and Kenneth Holmlund (HD-38), siding with the insurance lobby and refusing to stand up for survivors (even when firmly informed that they, in fact, do have the power to protect Montanans). To add insult to injury, these legislators went on to poke fun at survivors who have come forward years later. One of Eastern Montana’s Senators was also present in the room, Kenneth Bogner (SD-19). He did not add anything to this discussion, but he also chose not to refute any of the garbage that was presented (another black mark on his record as he runs for Lt. Governor with Dr. Al Olszewski; please review my previous piece on his other disqualifying choices here). 

What do we do? Voters must choose to elect a State Auditor and Legislative Representatives who vow to be independent of the insurance lobby and will place the needs and well-being of Montanans above corporations and campaign donations. These remarks and attitudes betrayed all of the Miles City survivors; the 32 plaintiffs, the survivors of sexual assault who have not come forward, and the Miles City community. If their local newspaper The Miles City Star and Miles City community Facebook posts are any indicator, the fact that the community as a whole hasn’t run them out on a rail just shocks this author. As for those of us in other districts/locales in Montana: we must vote to replace those representatives who don’t value youth protection and justice for survivors. Let’s make the right choices.

A battle to remove the administrators whose silence extended the abuse. As previously reported: a Custer County District High School principal (Fred Anderson), Vice Principal (Jack Regan), Activities Director (Ted Schreiber), and Superintendent (Robert Richards) all signed a memo which acknowledged that the athletic trainer was seeing students outside of school and that they had received at least three complaints about him touching students. These four adults were aware of the abuse and DID NOTHING but issue a weak memo that was never followed up on. Their silence allowed the abuse to continue for YEARS. The very same Fred Anderson is still serving in the Montana House of Representatives for Great Falls (HD-20). He’s still a leader for Great Falls. He still has power. Exactly how despicable must a Representative be before the MTGOP will work to remove them? What’s the threshold? None of the administrators or authority figures who enabled this abuse should ever be in a position of authority or trust again. Full stop.

What do we do? Well Great Falls, looks like you’ve got some ethical decisions to make. Fred Anderson should no longer be in a position of trust. That removal could begin with the MTGOP taking a stand; and every moment they delay doing what’s right is a stain on their claims of “family values”. And if the MTGOP can’t grow up by election day 2020, then it will be up to the adults in the room (the MTDEMS) to run a decent candidate that removes Anderson from office. Great Falls citizens shouldn’t have to wait that long, but so far the MTGOP doesn’t seem to show any sign of doing what’s right.

A battle against the LIES spread about this case and the survivors. A quick perusal of the Billings Gazette’s Facebook comment section this morning is a solid reminder that Montanans still struggle with accurate news media consumption. As with almost any news story that deals with sexual assault, the same myths persist. And these same myths are reinforced by Montana legislators in their words and actions:

  • Legislators joked about false allegations. Those jokes only empower abusers and spread misinformation.
  • Legislators tried to downplay the assaults, the survivors’ claims, the need for financial compensation, and the need for regulatory action.
  • Legislators fear-mongered about settlements having to be paid by Miles City taxpayers and that a settlement would bankrupt the city. The survivors chose to only pursue the insurance policy payout of $9 million; an agreement between the school district and the plaintiffs. This frightens survivors into NOT coming forward and pits the community against the survivors.

Numerous adults throughout this entire ordeal have demonstrated that they cannot be entrusted with the safety of students and youth. Too many adults in positions of authority have let their fellow community members down.

What do we do? We begin by believing survivors. We begin by speaking up any time we hear these myths being perpetuated in our communities. We begin by choosing to do the right thing, even when it’s uncomfortable.

The 32 survivors not only took steps to protect the taxpayers of Miles City, they also worked with the Miles City Unified School District to enact new, stronger protections for youth. The survivors are not only trying to heal the past, they are attempting to help prevent disaster in the future. Every step of this process they put community, safety, and youth above themselves. They’ve been strong. They’ve shown us what needs to be done.

Now it’s our turn.

**

The Billings Gazette put together a detailed timeline of the case here.

My coverage of this topic has been extensive, and I strongly encourage readers to read all of the pieces. This case has had effects far outside of Miles City, into neighboring counties, and across the state. Beginning March piece, Legislative update, further Legislative action, and a July update.

I would also encourage school boards across the state to review the safety changes that are coming to the Miles City Unified School District and consider updating their own policies to better protect our youth.

Need to speak to someone safe and confidentially about sexual assault? Contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline: 800.656.HOPE (4673).
There’s also a free, confidential online chat available. Click here.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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. Being a liberal east of Billings has unique and intense challenges, and Plains Feminist tries (sometimes fruitfully, sometimes not so much) to educate 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.

2 Comments

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  • Not enough money for the victims. I’m thinking the High School administrators who knew but did nothing should be sued until they so broke they are homeless, begging on a street corner for food.

  • They need to screen priests, teachers, coaches, and other school employees a lot better.

    It’s not by accident that sexual, predators end up in positions of trust around children. Those people at an early age discover their sexual appetite for children and end up in jobs where they will have access to them.

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