Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer
Acquaintance rape is a crime like no other. Unlike burglary or embezzlement or any other felony, the victim often comes under more suspicion than the alleged perpetrator. This is especially true if the victim is sexually active; if she had been drinking prior to the assault — and if the man she accuses plays on a popular sports team. For a woman in this situation, the pain of being forced into sex against her will is only the beginning of her ordeal. If she decides to go to the police, undertrained officers sometimes ask if she has a boyfriend, implying that she is covering up infidelity. She is told rape is extremely difficult to prove, and repeatedly asked if she really wants to press charges. If she does want to charge her assailant, district attorneys frequently refuse to prosecute. If the assailant is indicted, even though victim’s name is supposed to be kept confidential, rumors start in the community and on social media, labeling her a slut, unbalanced, an attention-seeker. The vanishingly small but highly publicized incidents of false accusations are used to dismiss her claims in the press. If the case goes to trial, the woman’s entire personal life often becomes fair game for the defense attorneys.
In Missoula, Krakauer chronicles the searing experiences of several women in Missoula — the nights when they were raped; their fear and self-doubt in the aftermath; the way they were treated by the police, prosecutors, defense attorneys; the public vilification and private anguish; their bravery in pushing forward and what it cost them.
Some of them went to the police. Some declined to go to the police, or to press charges, but sought redress from the university, which has its own, noncriminal judicial process when a student is accused of rape. In two cases the police agreed to press charges and the district attorney agreed to prosecute. One case led to a conviction; one to an acquittal. Those women courageous enough to press charges or to speak publicly about their experiences were attacked in the media, on Grizzly football fan sites, and/or to their faces. The university expelled three of the accused rapists, but one was reinstated by state officials in a secret proceeding. One district attorney testified for an alleged rapist at his university hearing. She later left the prosecutor’s office and successfully defended the Grizzlies’ star quarterback in his rape trial. The horror of being raped, in each woman’s case, was magnified by the mechanics of the justice system and the reaction of the community.
Krakauer’s dispassionate, carefully documented account of what these women endured cuts through the abstract ideological debate about campus rape. College-age women are not raped because they are promiscuous, or drunk, or send mixed signals, or feel guilty about casual sex, or seek attention. They are the victims of a terrible crime and deserving of compassion from society and fairness from a justice system that is clearly broken.(via Goodreads)
Actually, this isn’t a review. This is truly taking my tagline to heart: “opinions about books and other things.”
Recently, I read a review of this book by another blogger who commented that one of the thing she found semi-confusing about Missoula was its “Well, what *is* this thing called acquaintance rape?” attitude. As a book published in 2015, shouldn’t it be as aware of the phenomenon as its readers–that is to say, its female readers of a certain age and background who are fairly informed? A disturbing fact of the matter is that many people don’t understand and don’t necessarily want to pick through a situation that isn’t as unambiguous as some ski-masked rapist jumping out the bushes.
I wonder if some of my anxiousness in November was due to my listening material. While cleaning, I was listening to Missoula. While playing video games, I’ve been listening to Undisclosed, a follow-up podcast to last year’s season of Serial. Undisclosed combs through the investigation and conviction of Adnan Seyd. In both cases, it’s fairly obvious how flawed our justice system can be and how mistaken our assumptions about the behaviors of others often is.
The author of this book is male. It shouldn’t matter that the the author is male, but to be honest, it did matter to me. It mattered that a male nonfiction writer was willing to tell this story. The narrator of my audio book is female, which led to a dissonance, again perhaps only for me. I imagine the publishers decided that it was a better choice given the quotes by the women involved. How immediately different would my thoughts on Missoula be if the voice had been male?
Publishing info, my copy: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, 2015
Acquired: Tempe Library Overdrive Digital Collection