Missoula looks to expand sexual violence programs, target new demographics

Sexual Violence

By Martin Kidston

A trio of programs under the city and county of Missoula are moving forward with several new measures to reduce sexual and relationship violence, those behind the effort said Wednesday.

From training area coaches to promote respectful behavior among athletes to a pending survey of Missoula bar patrons, the efforts aim to stamp out an issue that made Missoula the subject of national headlines just a few short years ago.

A bill also has been proposed to the Montana Legislature that could change the state definition of rape. Nearly all of the measures, including the legislation, address the issue of consent.

“Right now, our state law says rape has occurred when someone is compelled to submit by force,” said Kelly McGuire with Relationship Violence Services in Missoula “This draft would amend that to say that force doesn’t have to be used, and rape occurs when consent hasn’t been obtained. That would be helpful for our prosecutors in terms of getting convictions.”

McGuire, in a presentation to the Missoula City Council’s Public Safety and Health Committee, said her office recently partnered with the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence to receive a $50,000 grant from a national organization funded by the NFL.

The Missoula organization was one of 20 to receive the funding from a pool of 200 national applicants.

“It’s a great testament to the work we’ve been doing here in Missoula,” said McGuire. “That grant is going to fund another round of marketing for the Make Your Move campaign. It will focus on consent, which is an issue that has emerged in our community.”

The funding will also enable the Make Your Move campaign to train Missoula area bartenders on bystander intervention to head of a potential sexual assault, McGuire said. Among other things, the campaign seeks to change social perceptions around sexual aggression.

“We’re planning to do some patron surveys around bars and online to hear about what experiences Missoulians have had in Missoula area bars,” McGuire said. “It will better inform our training with bar staff to be able to say this is what we’re hearing from patrons to improve safety.”

McGuire said her program continues to show ads in area theaters, which reach thousands of local viewers each year. The effort also has leaned on prevention research, and will begin collecting data from middle-school and high-school students regarding their understanding of consent.

“One best practice that has emerged from research is that sexual violence prevention really should be linked with comprehensive sex ed, and it hasn’t been in the past,” said McGuire. “Consent education is something that really has been missing from sex ed.”

McGuire said the combined efforts will also look to a national curriculum dubbed Coaching Boys Into Men. The program provides the coaches of high-school athletes with the resources they need to promote respectful behavior among players and help prevent relationship abuse, harassment and sexual assault.

“All of those programs are part of a comprehensive strategy for Missoula,” McGuire said. “We aim to provide multiple prevention messages from multiple sources over time so we’re giving lots of different messages around prevention, and it’s really being enforced in our community.”

Jenny Daniel, the JUST Response coordinator with Relationship Violence Services in Missoula, said her office is also moving forward with several programs, including the new Lethality Assessment Program, which was implemented in July in partnership with the Missoula Police Department.

“Basically, it involves patrol officers talking to victims of intimate partner violence at the scene, and doing a risk assessment with them. It’s 11 questions, and they connect them with the YWCA when it’s high risk. They’re finding that lots of them are high risk – more than they thought.”

McGuire added that proposed legislation changing the state definition of rape would help prosecute offenders who commit rape, even where physical force may be absent.

“We know there are a lot of sexual assaults that don’t involve physical force, because victims freeze up and may not resist in that way because they are so afraid,” said McGuire. “This change in state law would recognize those types of assaults as well.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com