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Griz sports forum turns vulgar in wake of sexual assault scandal

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Women are b-words. C-words. Or “feminazis.”

Rape victims are women who feel guilty after a one-night stand. Mad because the guy didn’t call afterward. “Innocent” only if the assault is “unforeseen, unprovoked, and perpetrated by complete strangers.”

And the investigations by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education, and the NCAA, announced in the midst of a scandal over sexual assaults at the University of Montana?

Witch hunts. Lynch mobs. Provoked by “feminazis.”

At which point, we’ve gone full circle on eGriz, the testosterone-soaked online universe where people can chat about their favorite UM athletic team.

Given that the federal investigations focus on some assaults that allegedly involved football players, it’s perhaps inevitable that the eGriz football forum these days more often resembles – as some participants have complained – a never-ending discussion on sexual assault.

“We should have a Rape Room since its (sic) getting so much play, all the posts should go in there to clean up this ‘football forum,’ ” an eGriz poster grumbled in early March.

Despite its maroon-and-silver format, and the fact that it’s run by UM employee Chris Lynn, has no relation to, the official site of the UM Athletics Department.

Still, the eGriz conversations take place against the backdrop of very public efforts by the university to be more sensitive and responsive to issues surrounding sexual assault.

UM President Royce Engstrom (often an eGriz punching bag), who has held several public forums on and off campus about sexual assault and the university’s response to it, said he doesn’t read sites like eGriz.

“But I think it’s very unfortunate that there are some people who respond the way they do,” he said.

In February, the university, the city and Missoula County announced a joint effort to urge sexual assault victims to call 9-1-1. But as YWCA executive director Cindy Weese pointed out Monday, women who do come forward are “villainized” in forums like eGriz.

“It has a chilling effect on women. It sends a message that you’d better beware if you consider reporting,” she said. “It’s a perfect recipe for allowing sexual assault to be appallingly prevalent and grossly underreported. Because of this, because of this environment, that happens.”

Kevin McCrae, associate higher education commissioner, said in an email that while he’s read eGriz, “I wouldn’t rely on it for information or facts. Oftentimes the content seems two or three clicks north of PG13- or R-rated. I wouldn’t want my kids looking at it.”

And even some eGriz participants seem appalled at the tone of some of the comments.

Back in January, in a thread about the arrest of UM running back Beau Donaldson in a rape case, someone posted on eGriz:

“This board reveals the complete denigration of women, in countless posts and threads. ‘Oh, we love and respect women. Our Hotties threads are entirely respectful.’ … You all use references to females in insulting each other: ‘d—bag,’ ‘c—’ etc. To put down another guy, you refer to him as some kind of female.”


Lynn declined to comment or to be interviewed about eGriz, directing questions to the forum’s moderating policy.

The forum’s Code of Conduct asks participants not to post, among other things, “material that has overly vulgar, obscene or indecent language or images,” and “posts that are hateful or racially offensive.”

Yet a search on the so-called “c-word” brings up 37 hits – and those are just the ones where the writer spelled it out, rather than substituting stars or dashes, as some writers do.

The word is generally considered as offensive, or nearly so, as the "n-word." “It’s just a blatantly misogynistic term,” Weese said. “If someone was using the ‘n-word,’ we would clearly say, ‘No. You’ve crossed a line.’ I think when you’re using the c-word, you’ve crossed a line. I think it goes beyond free speech to hate speech, and should be a trigger to remove the post and to actually remove the poster.”

Weese said that several months ago, when UM began investigating sexual assault and such posts started appearing on eGriz, the YWCA made a brief, unsuccessful attempt to find out who ran the forum so that they could object – especially because eGriz so resembles a UM site.

“I think much of the general public thinks it’s affiliated” with UM, she said.

The Missoulian’s reporting also attracts frequent fire on eGriz.

Last week, in response to an editor’s query about an eGriz post wishing a reporter “would choke to her demise,” Lynn wrote that “these forums are extremely busy and it is impossible for the moderators to see/read every post. It is imperative that you help bring violations of these rules to our attention. Without this, we can’t take action on violations we are unaware of.”

No action was taken on that comment or others similarly denigrating women.

The Internet is, of course, a wide-open world, Weese said.

“I guess I would just want them to know it really perpetuates a climate of violence against women,” she said of eGriz. “When they allow that type of communication to go on and on it becomes really accelerated and inflammatory. That is a big part of the problem around sexual violence against women in this country. I would implore them to consider that.”

Weese suggested a policy that clearly forbids “these horribly derogatory” comments about women.

“I think eGriz needs to take some leadership as well,” she said. “They purport to be a part of this community. Well, they can be a part of the solution.”

Reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, or@CopsAndCourts on Twitter.

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Related to this story

The hard lessons from the last few months at the University of Montana have not been lost on the greater Montana University System.

The Montana Board of Regents on Friday approved a system-wide policy clarifying existing requirements on handling sexual assault allegations.

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