Earlier this week the two year stand off between Missoula County Attorney General's Office and the United States department of justice came to a close. In May of 2012, the DOJ conducted an investigation which revealed alleged gender bias and discrimination with the handling of sexual assault by the county attorney's office.
The agreement announced Tuesday asserts that the Attorney General's office will now oversee the county attorney office's development and implementation of new standards and procedures when handling sexual assault cases.
Although Missoula was put under most of the spotlight on how prosecutors handle sexual assault cases, Attorney General Tim Fox says the new standards and procedures his office is overseeing will become a precedent throughout the state.
"Now each county is unique. Some of the large counties have a lot of resources, some of the smaller ones not so much," Fox said. "So we want to fill the gap and make sure the standards are what they should be, that victims are treated fairly and that we provide all the resources that we reasonably can to our county attorney's offices throughout the state."
Part of the agreement focuses on training prosecutors so they are able to more confidentially take on sexual assault cases and in a compassionate manner.
"We need to make sure we treat victims of sexual assault appropriately and fairly and with compassion because it's a very traumatic crime to be a victim of and it's something that stays with people all their lives," Fox said.
In time, the hope of these improvements is to show sexual assault victims they can trust the criminal justice system.
"To know that they will be treated with respect and compassion and to know that the justice system will ultimately get them justice and protect others from the criminals who commit these kinds of crimes," Fox said.
In recent months, Missoula organizations are already showing improvements with responding to sexual assault cases. Fox says we will soon see similar efforts throughout the state.
"We'll see more resources put into efforts to prosecute sexual assault crimes and to make sure that victims rights are appropriately considered," Fox said. "We'll see a greater cooperation among law enforcement agencies and other public partners like victim right's advocates."
To measure the results of implementing these new standards, Fox says his office will provide information such as new polices and procedures put in place to the public each step of the way.