Assaults Deserve Community Response

This past weekend, there were two reported attempts of sexual assault. The first occurred Saturday morning, when former MSU student Kevin A. Briggs allegedly assaulted a woman using a knife. Though Briggs was taken into custody at the Bozeman Law and Justice Center, during his questioning he was left alone in a room for ten minutes and walked out the front door of the courthouse wearing shackles and handcuffs. He was last headed north toward Main Street. It was later discovered that in 2003 he was convicted of rape, burglary and kidnapping in Lewis and Clark County. Since his escape on Saturday, Briggs has yet to be located.

Later, at 1:27 a.m. on Sunday morning, an attempted assault took place on Pioneer Drive in Bozeman. The assailant reportedly approached a woman next to her parked car, pushed her against it and stated he was going to rape her. The woman elbowed the man in the nose, which appeared to be bleeding, and he fled running south. The assailant has not been located. Due to conflicting descriptive details of the assailants, it is thought that the two assaults are unrelated. For more details about the assaults, see the article on page four.

These are the facts; clear and supported by evidence. The response from MSU has included multiple warnings on campus, including MSU alerts, residence halls increasing security, and the posting of Briggs’ picture in many locations on campus. Though public perception has varied, the responses have generally been very supportive of the survivors of the alleged assaults.

It is easy, at times like this, to point fingers. Maybe the most obvious to blame, other than the assailants themselves, are the Bozeman Police Department. Bozeman citizens trust the police to keep them safe, and when a dangerous assailant just walks out of their custody, that relationship is betrayed.

This argument holds water, but with both assailants at large, now is not the time to play the blame game. Surely, that will come later — in the wake of the events the focus should be more on finding the assailants than punishing those culpable. Statistically, one in three women and one in 33 men will be assaulted in their lifetime. Despite the immense privacy surrounding these events, they undoubtedly impact our entire community. At a time like this, it is more important to support survivors and the community at large than be the first to cast stones.

Similarly, it is also crucial that the MSU community holds itself above the impulse to spew needless gossip about the incidents, especially regarding the survivors. The impacts of an attempted or completed assault are already extreme, and it undoubtedly makes the trauma more difficult when the entire student body is aware and speculative of the event. This situation is serious and should be taken as such.

The best way to support the community at this time is through vigilance and respect. This call for vigilance goes beyond staying in groups or walking in lit areas, especially because these actions decrease risk but do not prevent assault. To protect itself, the entire community must keep their eyes out for the two men involved. Any information, no matter how insignificant it may seem, needs to be reported for the safety of our campus and our community. If we concede that the safety of all revolves around the protection of all, then now is as good a time as ever to watch out for your fellow man. Events like this can fracture a community with doubt and blame, or, if we let it, allow us to come together as one.

Editor’s Note: Any sightings or information related to the weekend’s assaults can be reported anonymously at switness@montana.edu or the MSU VOICE Center.