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Mother Jones | 'She Might Have Had a Case If She Had Been Unconscious During the Rape'

(01/17/2014) After a scathing Justice Department investigation in the nation's "rape capital," the county attorney says he has everything under control. [ . . . ]

"Missoula County Attorneys Office does not need to enter into an agreement with DOJ to protect victims of sexual assault, [we have] actively assisted victims for years," Van Valkenburg wrote, arguing that the two federal statutes that the Justice Department cites—one of which deals with gender discrimination—do not legally justify imposing changes on his office. The prosecutor is correct that the Justice Department can't force recommendations on the office, says Christopher Mallios, an attorney adviser for AEquitas, which receives funding from the Department of Justice to help local prosecutors better handle sexual-violence cases. But he adds, that if the Justice Department is able to prove civil rights violations in court, a judge could enforce them. Van Valkenburg says that his office is already meeting many of the Justice Department's demands, and even if he had the funding, he wouldn't add the three new staff members the feds want, because they'd represent "a duplication of services" provided by other city units. Van Valkenburg says if the Justice Department doesn't back off in the next two weeks, he will take the issue to federal court.

"I'm not aware of another case where a prosecutor said we would rather litigate and go to trial than make some changes," Mallios says. And other experts say the prosecutor's response is unusual: "No prosecutor wants to admit that they have shortcomings, especially on such a sensitive issue," says Sarah Deer, who worked for the Justice Department's Office on Violence Against Women in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. "But there is a culture in some offices that sexual assault is sort of overstated or victims tend to lie. That might be what's going on here—a culture of indifference."

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