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University of Montana: Justice Department investigating 80 alleged rapes in 3 years

The US Justice Department has launched a probe into allegations that as many as 80 complaints of sexual assault in the university town of Missoula, Montana were not investigated properly.

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US Attorney General Eric Holder speaks at the Justice Department. A federal probe is looking into 80 alleged instances of rape in the University of Montana town of Missoula. (Mark Wilson/AFP/Getty Images)

The US Justice Department has launched a probe into allegations that as many as 80 rapes over three years in the University of Montana town of Missoula were not investigated thoroughly, NBC News Montana reported

Of the 80 alleged instances of sexual assault, at least 11 in an 18 month period involved University of Montana students, CNN reported. At least two members of the university's champion football team, the Grizzlies, have also been accused of rape, prompting the dismissal of the football coach and the school's athletic director, MSNBC reported

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"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, Reuters reported

The Justice Department is working with the Department of Education on the investigation, according to CNN. 

The federal probe was prompted by the University of Montana's own investigation into sexual assaults on campus, CNN reported. The school hired Montana Supreme Court Justice Diane Barz to investigate in December 2011, and she surveyed nine alleged sexual assaults from September 2010 through December.

Barz's report concluded that the University of Montana at Missoula has "a problem of sexual assault on and off campus," according to CNN. 

The Justice Department's investigation will focus on complaints that local law enforcement did not adequately look into or prosecute sexual assaults on women in Missoula because of gender discrimination, MSNBC reported. 

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Local authorities have said that the rate of sexual assault claims in the western Montana city of 86,000 is on par with similarly sized college towns, Reuters reported, and Missoula County's chief prosecutor, Fred Van Valkenburg, has called the Justice Department probe an "overreach by the federal government."

"I have no reason to believe (police) violated anyone's rights," Valkenburg said, defending his department. 

University of Montana President Royce Engstrom told CNN that the school was "fully committed to cooperating and collaborating in this investigation. We have taken this matter extremely seriously from day one."