Monthly Archives: March 2014

Justice Department Finds Substantial Evidence of Gender Bias in Missoula County Attorney’s Office Response to Sexual Assault Cases

wjc letterhead




March 24, 2014

Jocelyn Samuels
Acting Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division, US Dept. of Justice
Washington, D.C.

Michael W. Cotter
United States Attorney
Missoula, Montana

Open Letter Re: District Attorney Obligations and Accountability to Victims of Violence Against Women

Dear Ms. Jocelyn Samuels and Mr. Michael W. Cotter,

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

We have read and re-read your February 2014 U.S. Department of Justice Letter of Findings [see below] regarding the Missoula District Attorney’s mishandling of rape cases, and we’ve passed it on to others in hopes it will be widely used as the groundbreaking legal tool it is.

You’ve done an extraordinarily valuable service to women by trail blazing a solid legal path to district attorney obligations and accountability to victims of violence against women, where before there was only the seemingly impassible thicket of anti-women court decisions dating back decades and right up to present day.

Like the Missoula district attorney, there are still way too many district attorneys around the country who believe their official powers of discretion give them carte blanch to ignore, disregard, ditch, discriminate against, and deny justice to women, as they wish, and with impunity. Indeed, until your findings, a district attorney’s systematic denial of justice to women has been deemed untouchable, and has stood as a key and intractable obstacle in the struggle to end violence against women.

The legal foundation you establish in your findings is so commonsense, rigorous, and thoroughly constructed that women anywhere can stand securely on your argument to demand equal justice from their local district attorneys. Its great strength is that you have forged this foundation squarely within the framework of women’s fundamental constitutional rights. And it’s especially helpful that you’ve accompanied your legal citations with brief, plain-language summaries that can be understood by all.

In addition to cementing a district attorney’s prosecutorial obligations to victims of violence against women, your coverage of related obligations is also extremely helpful, such as your construct and foundation for a district attorney responsibility to investigate these cases, as well as prosecute, when police have failed to properly do so.

Your Letter of Findings was also immensely gratifying personally for your use of the year 2000 9th Circuit Court decision in the case of Macias v. Sheriff Ihde as a pillar in your findings. Myself and colleague Tanya Brannan were the advocates on that case, and we have always pondered why it lay dormant for so long. As you can imagine, we are ever so pleased you have built on Macias and other cases to greatly and so solidly advance the cause of justice for women.

Thank you again.


Marie De Santis, Director
Women’s Justice Center
Santa Rosa, CA


Department of Justice

Office of Public Affairs


Friday, February 14, 2014

Justice Department Finds Substantial Evidence of Gender Bias in Missoula County Attorney’s OfficeResponse to Sexual Assault Cases with Women Victims at Issue

Today, the Department of Justice issued a letter of findings describing problems in the Missoula County, Mont., Attorney’s Office’s response to sexual assault, and concluding that there is substantial evidence that the County Attorney’s response to sexual assault discriminates against women.  The department opened civil pattern or practice investigations of the Missoula County Attorney’s Office, along with the Missoula Police Department and the University of Montana’s Office of Public Safety, in May 2012.  The department investigations, brought under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, and the anti-discrimination provisions of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, focused on allegations that the three law enforcement agencies were systematically failing to protect women victims of sexual assault in Missoula.   The department, along with the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, also opened an investigation of the University of Montana’s handling of allegations of sexual assault and harassment of students under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.  The investigation of the Missoula Police Department and both investigations of the University of Montana were resolved in May 2013, via cooperative agreements with the Justice Department.


“Prosecutors play a critical role in ensuring that women victims of sexual assault have effective and equal access to criminal justice,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Civil Rights Division.  “We uncovered evidence of a disturbing pattern of deficiencies in the handling of these cases by the County Attorney’s Office, a pattern that not only denies victims meaningful access to justice, but places the safety of all women in Missoula at risk.  We hope that this letter will enable us to move forward with constructive discussions with the County Attorney to resolve these serious concerns.”


The department’s investigation uncovered evidence indicating that the Missoula County Attorney’s Office engages in gender discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution as well as relevant federal laws.  In particular, the investigation found evidence that the decisions of the County Attorney’s Office regarding the investigation and prosecution of sexual assaults and rape, particularly non-stranger assaults and rapes, are influenced by gender bias and gender stereotyping and adversely affect women in Missoula.  The investigation found that the following, taken together, strongly suggest gender discrimination:

·          Despite their prevalence in the community, sexual assaults of adult women are given low priority in the County Attorney’s Office;

·          The County Attorney does not provide Deputy County Attorneys with the basic knowledge and training about sexual assault necessary to effectively and impartially investigate and prosecute these cases;

·          The County Attorney’s Office generally does not develop evidence in support of sexual assault prosecutions, either on its own or in cooperation with other law enforcement agencies

·          Adult women victims, particularly victims of non-stranger sexual assault and rape, are often treated with disrespect, not informed of the status of their case and revictimized by the process;  and

·          The County Attorney’s Office routinely fails to engage in the most basic communication about its cases of sexual assault with law enforcement and advocacy partners.

“Over the past eight months, the City of Missoula, the University of Montana and the Missoula Police Department already have made important strides toward improving their response to sexual assault and strengthening the community’s confidence in its local police,” said U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter for the District of Montana.  “It is our sincere hope that the Missoula County Attorney will follow that example and work cooperatively with the Justice Department to address the deficiencies identified in our investigation, and to improve the safety of women in this community.

The investigation was conducted jointly by the Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Montana.  The prevention of sex-based discrimination is a top priority of the Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney’s Offices.  The Civil Rights Division has worked to ensure that women are not subject to discriminatory practices by law enforcement in New Orleans, Puerto Rico and elsewhere.  Additional information about the Civil Rights Division is available on its website.  Additional information about the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Montana can be found on its website.

WVU sociology professor research: gender-based violence; enhanced dangers of IPV for rural women

West Virginia University’s Walter S. DeKeseredy has received the Critical Criminal Justice Scholar Award from the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences. DeKeseredy, the Anna Deane Carlson Endowed Chair of Social Sciences and sociology professor in WVU’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology, was recognized for distinguished accomplishments in scholarship, teaching or service over at least a two-year period.

He has published 19 books and more than 160 scientific journal articles and book chapters on violence against women and other topics.

His most recent empirical work has focused on the enhanced dangers and risks of intimate partner violence for women in rural settings compared to women in urban or suburban settings seeking to end relationships.

In Violence Against Women, he debunks current attempts to label intimate violence as gender neutral, points out the structural practices that sustain this violence, and outlines policies to address the issue. DeKeseredy also includes an examination of male complicity and demonstrates how boys and men can change their roles. Throughout, he responds to myths that dismiss threats to women’s health and safety and issues a call to action.

Domestic violence mobile app to be created

A New York county will create a domestic violence mobile app, the county’s chief said after Natalie Merchant debuted a concert film to benefit such victims.

The new application, designed to run on smartphones, tablet computers and other mobile devices, would be a first line of defense, helping users easily recognize signs of domestic violence in friends and family and get help for them, Ulster County Executive Michael Hein said at the premiere of Merchant’s documentary Shelter: A Concert Film to Benefit Victims of Domestic Violence.

The Hudson Valley county north of New York City already has a suicide awareness and prevention mobile app.

The film screened in Kingston Friday documents a June 2013 concert and testimony-discussion at Bard College in nearby Annandale-on-Hudson.

Singer-songwriter Merchant, an Ulster County resident, and other local musicians performed at that event to raise awareness of domestic violence, which the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention says one in every four women in the United States experiences.

The Bard event also included state and local domestic violence advocates, criminal prosecutors and violence survivors.

The Kingston screening was followed by a discussion by Merchant, state lawmakers and officials of Ulster and neighboring Dutchess County. County officials included prosecutors focusing on domestic violence crimes, sexual offenses and elder abuse.

Domestic violence has become my obsession in the last year, Merchant told the Daily Freeman of Kingston before the screening.

It’s a silent crisis, she said.

Merchant, who has also supported social justice, children’s rights and environmental causes, was the lead singer and primary lyricist for the alternative rock band 10,000 Maniacs before starting her solo career in 1993.

The screening and discussion, which Merchant said were the first of planned annual domestic violence forums, were held in conjunction with the global One Billion Rising campaign to end violence against women.

An estimated 1.3 million women in the United States are assaulted by an intimate partner each year, CDC statistics indicate.

Nearly a third of female homicide victims cited in police records are killed by an intimate partner, FBI statistics cited by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence show.

Domestic violence is one of the most chronically under-reported crimes, the Justice Department says. Only 25 percent of physical assaults, 20 percent of rapes and 50 percent of stalkings against women by intimate partners are reported to police, the CDC says.


Carsey Institute Study: Intimate Partner Violence Among LGBTQ+ College Students

Drawing from a survey of 391 college students in same-sex relationships, this brief documents the rates and patterns of intimate partner violence, and responses to it among LGBTQ+ youth. Authors Katie Edwards and Kateryna Sylaska report that four in ten LGBTQ+ college students in the sample reported intimate partner violence victimization or perpetration within a current relationship and that more than one-third of the victims told no one about the abuse, a rate that is higher than what is generally found among heterosexual college students. Victims most frequently turned to friends when revealing the abuse, followed by family members. Only 9 percent turned to formal supports such as counselors. LGBTQ+ adolescents and young adults are frequently “invisible in mainstream student programs,” and intimate partner violence prevention programs are no exception. The authors conclude that it is critical that college campus programming, policies, and services, including those that are specific to intimate partner violence, strive to be inclusive of LGBTQ+ students.
Carsey Institute Link

Centers for Disease Control Releases Study

Intimate Partner Violence in the U.S.

Late last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released their new report, Intimate Partner Violence in the U.S. ~ 2010, which explores patterns of victimization and its impact. This data, from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS), provides information about the context of victimization experiences.

Visit NCDSV’s collection which includes the final report, related materials interpreting the study and practical guidance in using the information.

This is the fourth part of the NISVS; the original in November 2011; Prevalence of Intimate Partner Violence, Stalking and Sexual Violence Among Active Duty Women and Wives of Active Duty Men in March 2013; and 2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation in January 2013.

Director’s Message in Wake of Tragedy

Turning Point recognizes and honors the Hope and Comfort provided to us all through our diverse faith traditions and through our individual relationships and understandings of a Higher Power.  In the wake of the terrible tragedy that took the lives of 3 individuals and forever changed the lives of 2 survivors and all the surviving family and friends (Jonesburg, MO, February 14, 2014), we offer the following as a message of survival and hope for us all:

We have just suffered a great and painful tragedy. Lives have been lost and families have been shattered.

When such violence rocks a community, whether we knew and loved those involved, or whether their names and faces were not familiar, our sense of safety is shattered. We don’t know what to think and we don’t know what to do. We don’t understand how these things happen.

I cannot change what has happened. And I won’t pretend that I can bring great comfort for us to share. There is nothing comfortable about talking about domestic violence in the wake of such suffering.

In fact, in the wake of such horrific violence, and through our contact with TV and Facebook, we sometimes believe we live in a broken, wild, angry, destructive and Godless world. And if we never look away from the school shootings and the car bombings and the gang-shootings; if we never look for life beyond the beatings and stabbings and rapes, we might not continue to believe in God’s salvation, or in prayer or have faith of ever finding Peace. Anywhere. Ever.

And it is difficult to maintain hope and faith. I come face-to-face with the despair and the broken places every day when I go to work. I recite the numbers: in the past year, 80 new women and 60 of their children have taken refuge at Turning Point’s Shelter, joining an average of 15 ongoing women and children already in shelter from the month before. And there have been more than 650 calls for help, assistance and referrals… And another 50 or so women who do not need shelter have come for emotional support or assistance with court, housing, and other critical needs.

And while most battered women do not die, the threat of death is an all-too-real consequence of the power and control dynamics that create this crime we call domestic violence. The threat of death is not just for the battered woman, but for her family, her new partner, her friends, or anyone who offers her refuge and peace.

In this community, we now know how very real the violence is, and we know that the women and children who are sleeping at Turning Point’s shelter tonight have suffered.

And we also know that rather than home being the place where Peace starts, for many, home is the most dangerous place on Earth.

That is a terrible Truth to hear. And there are a few more truths I feel I need to share, difficult as they may be to confront, because I think they will help us understand a little better what has happened and how we can survive.

1)  The first is that domestic violence is not caused by alcohol, drugs, mental illness or a personal defect. It IS caused by power and control – where one person feels entitled to take control of another, often stating that if he can’t have her, then no one can have her.

2)  Another awful truth is that it is unbelievably common; nearly 75% of all Americans know someone personally impacted by domestic violence. At least 1 in 4 women will experience some level of domestic violence in her lifetime.

3)  And yet another truth is that we often don’t help the situation – we often make it worse. He has told her she is stupid, worthless, and completely incapable of taking care of herself and the kids. And then we tell her she is worthless, and trashy, and responsible for her own abuse. We put her in a lose-lose situation.

4)  I can tell you right now that this tragedy in Jonesburg has battered women scared –scared to stay, and perhaps even more scared to leave.There is good reason: 50 or so Missourians die each year in domestic homicides. And nationally, studies show that no matter who died – the man or the woman – in 75 – 80% of those cases, he has been physically violent to her prior to the killings. And in virtually all of those cases, she has been at her greatest push-back against the violence – she has tried to leave, filed for divorce, gotten an order of protection, or announced she was leaving…. And he upped the ante.

5)  Perhaps the most significant truth – battered women are no different than you or I.   Battered women are US. We love, we trust, we care, we make mistakes, we are strong, we are smart… we are US.

What about shelter?

Women come to shelter for one of two reasons:

1)  the violence and threat of death is so great that shelter is the only safe place to go – he will find her at her mom’s and friends, and he has said he would kill them, too, if she goes there.

2)  because she has no financial means of supporting herself and needs a safe place to heal emotionally and to put together a plan for sustaining herself.

Shelter is an emotional place. The women come in completely at wit’s end. And they crowd in to shared rooms and have little access to private space. And they are strangers to one another.

**** And this is where the story begins to improve****.

While in shelter, women share their stories, experiences, and pain. And they build new visions of themselves and their own futures. Through support groups, and casual talking and meeting with advocates, they identify the barriers that make it hard to start over, and they build safety plans and employment plans and they make budgets and they meet with a counselor for crisis work. They go to court, and they learn to speak loudly about their abuse. They begin to heal from the negative messages and they learn to believe in themselves.

There is a lot of laughter in shelter, right along with the tears. They begin to find joy, to celebrate that they are still alive.

The average stay in our shelter is around 3 weeks. But the women often stay involved with Turning Point long after they have left shelter – they meet with advocates and come to support group and meet with the economic empowerment advocate and they come to special workshops.

And did you know that most battered and abused women do not come in to shelter? Instead, they contact us for services such as support groups, court advocacy, and safety planning.

Most importantly, battered women rebuild and move on. They have new relationships, and they have jobs and they adore their children, and they volunteer time and donate money.

And they begin a new type of home – one in which Peace is the goal. They determine that only those who will join them in this picture of Peace are welcome in their lives.

And we can learn from our abused and battered sisters and cousins and friends and what they have done to bring Peace into their new spaces. And perhaps by considering what we have learned from battered womenand how they transform their worlds, we can better understand what has happened and we can figure out how we can embrace tomorrow once again.

God has already blessed us with the tools we need to choose a Peace-filled home and to regain our footing and find the safe places. We have to embrace and use the tools God gave us. I believe that through using these tools, WE can become the manifestation of God’s Promise of Peace. And that we can create a transformative Peace that truly begins at home.

Like our Battered women, we can:

– Nurture – we can commit to nurturing the goodness that rests in each of us.

– Hold and Embrace – we can commit to not hit each other. Hitting does not reduce violence. Hitting creates a home in which hitting is the immediate response to conflict and control and to taking power. Embracing slows and communicates and heals the bruised and scraped places, all the way to our very souls.

– Stop Shaming – Shaming has no place in a home committed to Peace. There is no joke or challenge or discipline or learning moment that grows better with poking at a person’s most vulnerable places. It puts holes in one’s souls – holes that diminish a person.

– Respect – what a wonderful thing respect is. Respect happens when we realize that there are many ways to tackle each problem, and the different perspectives lend depth to every argument, and that diversity strengthens a family – diversity of thought, of action, of critical thinking.

– Speak with Care – some of the most damaged women I work with have never been beaten. But their abusers have been masterful it using words to destroy them – threatening, crazy-making, violent words, dehumanizing framing, destroying self worth. Careless words hurt. Targeted words destroy.

– Hug Often – We all know what it feels like to be hugged. Well hugged. Bear hugged. Tiny arms around Grandma’s neck. Mommy’s soft-skinned check against ours as we are being rocked. Daddy’s big strong arms catching us in a hug after a big success. We never outgrow the need for hugs, kisses, and being told we are loved.

– Touch with Love – Touch that comes without a pay-back. Touch that is freely given with no expectation. Touch that says what words just can’t quite explain.

– Play – especially you adults. Giggling under the sheets with our spouses can relieve some of the most disturbing stress. And while Chutes and Ladders may get old, finding a way to be just plain silly with your kids, your friends, your partner, can recharge our good places.

– Be Quiet – a healthy, comfortable silence, free from fear, threat, anxiety over the next word. Just silence.

– Check the Exposure – It is true – the world is violent. It is depressing. We need to know. But how often do we need to know? Reserve time and space where there is no violent mass media, no violent games that numb us to our own promise of Peace.

– Forgive – forgive ourselves for what we didn’t do enough of or that we did too much of.  Forgive ourselves as a community.

– Move forward – Don’t forget what has happened, learn from it. But don’t forget to be thankful that the sun continues to rise whether we want it or not. It means we have another chance.

We can determine that non-peace-filled people and non-peace-filled language can have no place in our homes and in our personal relationships. We can set boundaries that reinforce our Peace-filled lives, and we can insist that people who want to join us in that Peace-filled home must commit to living a life that craves the promised Peace.

  • And these things are our commitment to survive. These gifts of ways of being are the manifestation of God’s gift of Peace. And this commitment to Peace in our homes will spill forth and begin to transform the world around us, restoring confidence in the safety that truly exists for us.

In the wake of this tragedy, let’s not surrender to the violence. Rather, let’s open our hearts and our homes with a renewed determination towelcome the gift of peace and safe-keeping into our own homes. Let our Peace-filled homes become the manifestation and the transformation of the world.