At the November City Club luncheon at the Doubletree Hotel, a panel of Missoula’s law enforcement and medical professionals presented an overview of how the community is responding to sexual assault.

The panel consisted of Drew Colling with SARC (Student Advocacy Resource Center) on the UM campus, Mary Pat Hansen, Clinical Supervisor of First Step Resource Center, Missoula Police Captain Mike Colyer and Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst.

Colling began by reciting the SARC mission statement.

“The Student Advocacy Resource Center celebrates diversity, supports the right of all students to pursue success in our academic community, and is committed to a campus free from discrimination and unwelcome physical, sexual, emotional or social coercion, and it’s our goal that every interaction and communication be respectful, considerate, professional and supportive,” she said.
First Step’s Mary Pat Hansen said her facility is often the very first place that victims experience in their journey for justice.

“If there’s a concern in a family that their child has been abused, in many cases there is concern that the child has been sexually abused,” said Hansen. “Sometimes it’s physical abuse, sometimes its drug endangerment, drug uses, abuse or distribution in the home. We’re committed that we will bring together the professionals so that for that family that is now faced with child abuse, the system will work together to ease the way through for them.”

County Attorney Kirsten Pabst looked back on when her agency had very little in the way of full time support for sexual crime victims.

“Historically, there was only one person in the County Attorney’s office that was essentially dedicated to handling sexual and violent crimes,” said Pabst. “Now, we have eight and a half full time employees that make up our special victims unit.”

Many of these reforms began when the U.S. Department of Justice imposed training programs on City and UM Police and the Missoula County Attorney’s Office in response to investigations leading back to 2012.