Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst doesn't believe the criticism leveled at Missoula and its justice system during a 2012 U.S. Department of Justice investigation into sexual assault cases was fair, but she does believe it was timely.
"So, do I think this criticism was fair?" she asked in response to a question at Monday's Not in Our State Summit on sexual assault prevention. "Was it based on accurate information? Was it solution based? No, not at all. But was it timely? Yes, it was timely."
During the summit's seminar on "Sexual Assault in Montana: Fact, Fiction and Future," she explained the "unfair criticism" was timely because the Missoula County Attorney's Office is now able to receive funding for positions that help strengthen its Special Victims Unit, which is dedicated to sexual assault and relationship violence cases.
Pabst explained that her office is a reactive agency by its nature and can't stop sexual assault from happening. Rather, she and others are working to change the community's understanding of rape.
This is the sexual assault summit's fourth year, and the first hosted by the University of Montana. In years prior, it was held at Montana State University in Billings and Bozeman and at Montana Tech.
The summit will continue through Tuesday with a variety of panels addressing the issues surrounding sexual assault and its pervasiveness in society.
Along with the Missoula County attorney, Assistant Montana Attorney General Joel Thompson; Sen. Diane Sands, D-Missoula; UM attorney Lucy France; and the ACLU's legal director, Jim Taylor, fielded questions regarding the prosecution of sexual assault in Montana's justice system and the differences between university and legal processes during Monday afternoon's session.
Rep. Ellie Hill, D-Missoula, served as moderator of the event, emphasizing that one in five women are sexually assaulted in their lifetimes.
Thompson, who said he identifies as a feminist and encouraged other men to do the same, said female sexuality doesn't need to "be tempered down or controlled."
"There is still a huge element of our society ... that still believes rape is the natural consequence of undesirable female behavior," Thompson said. "That is the No. 1 problem. You only have to read the comments on social media after a sexual assault story to see every flavor of victim blaming that is out there. I think we need to have a huge dialogue and more men have to stand up."
"I wish we lived in a more sex-positive culture," he added. "You can't talk about consent if you ignore the fact that people are having sex."
Shantelle Gaynor, the senior grants administrator for Relationships Violence Services, attended the summit and the afternoon seminar.
She said the issue of sexual violence should be discussed "robustly."
"The issue deserves that level of scrutiny," she said. "Missoula being singled out was not deserved. Our numbers are not any different than any other communities, certainly in Montana.
"But intense scrutiny of the issue of sexual violence - I mean one in five women being assaulted, that's a pandemic. I mean if one in five women were being hit by cars, we would have a really strong community conversation about what's going on with all these cars hitting all these women."