Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer
Missoula, Montana is a college town and just about everyone there loves the University of Montana Grizzlies football team. Yet in the early 2010’s, the team was coming under fire for being ‘thugs.’ Members were increasingly convicted of crimes, and several were accused of rape. This led to Missoula being called the rape capital of the country. (However, the author assures the reader that things are equally as bad in other cities.) Recent news stories about either false allegations of rape on college campuses or lousy reporting of unsubstantiated accusations (Rolling Stone) might make us feel a bit more safe and secure–might make us believe that the rape of young women between the ages of 18 and 24 isn’t such a national crisis. Krakauer illuminates for us, case by case, why this sense of security is false. Rapes are still under-reported. He uses the completely dysfunctional justice system in Missoula to show us why this is so.
To a great extent, a big part of the problem stems from the fact that when people think of rapists, they only think of guys wielding knives and dragging girls into bushes. But many rapes are acquaintance rapes. A lot of people don’t believe that acquaintance rape is rape. The rapists don’t get consider themselves rapists. (Defenses include ‘I was drunk,’ ‘She was drunk,’ ‘She was moaning, so that means she gave consent,’ etc.) Most rapists are never caught. On college campuses, they force girls into sex at frat parties or dorm rooms or penetrate them when the girls are unconscious. And the same guys do this repeatedly. When a confidential study survey was done and the word ‘rape’ was not used, men answered yes to lots of questions about forcing girls to have sex with them, etc. In follow up interviews, they described their practice and technique for doing so. Some of this is very hard to read. But what becomes clear is that lots of women are raped by a small percentage of males since those who practice acquaintance rape will do it over and over.
The most difficult parts of this book to get through are the excerpts of court transcripts from the rape trials. Even now, in court, women who are raped are treated as nut cases who have been spurned by their lovers. A woman employed by the Missoula district attorney’s office (Pabst) is so loathsome that by the end of the book, I was wishing someone would throw her in jail. She notes on her website that she’s had a 99% conviction rate in cases that that come to trial. As some of the experts interviewed note, the only way to have such a conviction rate is not to take to trial any case that you have any chance of losing. For Pabst and the Missoula district attorney’s office, this includes just about any rape case, even ones in which they had a recorded confession. She neglects the rape victims and soothes at least one of the rapists, telling him not to let it bother him. (She’s a big Grizzlies football fan.) This disregard for rape victims is outrageous. Just as Pabst leaves the district attorney’s office, she signs on to defend one of the Grizzlies football players in a rape trial. The reader is disbelieving at her behavior toward the victim in the courtroom. When she later runs a sleaze campaign to be elected as the new district attorney (also claiming to be compassionate), the reader is nauseous. Of course, Krakauer just gives the reader the facts and lets her arrive at her conclusions through them. He is very professional, and doesn’t editorialize.
But the facts speak for themselves. When the U. S. Justice Department investigates the Missoula Police Department and the district attorney’s office, the reader hopes for change. In fairness, Krakauer gives credit to both agencies for their improvements and discusses what those are.
High school housekeeping: This is an important book for people your age. You should read it. Prepare yourself for the passages that make you livid. It is very clear that lots of Missoulians care far more about the football program and its winning record than they do about justice for rape victims.
Both girls and guys might come away from this vowing never to get drunk at college. These guys who are raping the girls are often drunk, and want to make that their excuse. But it’s not an excuse. They become rapists–and at that point, they should face all of the consequences that the justice system can impose on them.