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Montana sex assaults under US scrutiny

WASHINGTON - The United States is investigating whether the University of Montana in Missoula and local law enforcement failed to investigate and prosecute cases of alleged sexual assault against women, the Justice Department said.

The department is reviewing rape accusations made by women on and off campus in Missoula, including those unconnected to the university.

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The Justice Department said it has not determined how many of the 80 rapes reported in Missoula during the past three years were not properly investigated. There were 11 assaults reported on the campus over 18 months, the department said.

“The allegations that the University of Montana, the local police department, and the county attorney’s office failed to adequately address sexual assaults are very disturbing,’’ Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.

The Justice Department is examining whether gender discrimination played a role in a failure to investigate.

Justice Department letters to the university and local officials describing the investigation did not mention sexual assault allegations women made against two members of the Division I football team at the state’s oldest college, which has nearly 16,000 students. One player has been charged.

The department will investigate whether the Missoula Police Department and county attorney’s office “failed to investigate or prosecute sexual assaults,’’ according to the letters to local officials.

The investigation will examine whether the university and local law enforcement “acted promptly, fairly, and adequately to protect the interests of women,’’ said Thomas Perez, who leads the Justice Department’s civil rights division.

Local prosecutors “adamantly deny’’ engaging in gender discrimination, said Fred Van Valkenburg, the Missoula county attorney, in a statement.

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