Usually when I travel, the word `Montana` requires an explanation. In the state, we joke that others in the U.S. think we ride our horses to school and don’t have electricity. And in Europe, it’s unusual to find someone who can find Montana on a map (just like it is unusual in the United States to find someone who can identify somewhere other than London on a map of the U.K.)
However, as of late, Montana has grasped both national and international attention for some very contraversial reasons.
While flying through the U.S. (since Montana doesn’t offer flights to Europe), Montana was not just known—but it’s where many were flying to and from. In Minneapolis, I met two men in the airport, who had just left North Dakota. Another man on the flight to Atlanta had worked in Montana and North Dakota for years. They had all visited Missoula, knew Bozeman and Big Sky and had lived near, or in, Eastern Montana.
The oil boom has hit. And Montana is now on the map as the place to be for (mainly) young, single men. All three men I met, spoke about the insane work days, 12 hour minimums, and also, the incredible amount of cash they were bringing home after working in the oil fields. For me, it was eye-opening, of the few people I met on the plane rides in the U.S., it seemed as though everyone knew of, and had been to, Montana.
However, the international connection with Montana is not the same. Missoula, and the University of Montana, are now connected and associated with one thing internationally: rape. The articles about the reported 80 rapes in the last 2 years in the town have hit The Guardian and Daily Mail in the U.K. and other international sites in other languages, like El Molino in Spanish.
Although, the articles written are negative about Missoula, I feel more pride than disguist toward my college town. I am proud that the women in Missoula are standing up and rapists are not getting away with such a horrific crime. I am proud that Missoula will not tolerate victim-blaming and survivors feel confident, by speaking, they will be surrounded by love and trust—not hate and guilt.
This is something not many towns in the United States cannot claim. Rape happens in every town, in every country and it happens a lot more than we would like to think. And in Missoula, people are confronting this issue head-on and I believe that is something to be proud of.
Montana is no longer the “last best place.” The big state, with a small population, has been discovered. For now, it will likely be associated with danger on an international and national level (both because of the rape allegations but also because of the wild west atmosphere of the eastern part of the state—where the oil, money and jobs flow) but I hope one day, Montana will be recognized as the progressive state. I hope it is seen that Montana does not have more rapes than other states, but women feel more safe to come forward. Where oil booms but also, where the government looks for a more sustainable energy source. I hope we can transform all this negative media hype into positivity and show the rest of the world what a great place Montana is to be.