Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer and Border Contraband: A History of Smuggling Across the Río Grande
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), about one in six women is a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. This means that, whether or not we are aware of it, all of us probably know multiple rape victims. Statistics also show that between just 2 and 8 percent of reported rapes turn out to be false allegations, and yet rape, especially acquaintance rape, is known as the only crime in which the victim is generally assumed to be lying or very confused about what happened. Historically, the default assumption in American culture has been that a woman is in a perpetual state of sexual consent. Refusal must be proven by fighting back to the brink of her own death; otherwise her attacker might simply have misinterpreted her “no” as a “yes,” even if she was asleep or he was pinning her down and drawing blood. What the victim was wearing, if she were drinking, and whether or not she’d ever flirted with or considered having sex with her rapist are all considered valid mitigating circumstances in favor of the accused by police and district attorneys tasked with determining whether or not a crime took place and should be prosecuted.
In 1972, Title IX was passed at the federal level to address gender discrimination in education. In addition to parity in sports, Title IX requires colleges and universities to investigate all rape accusations as part of student discipline procedures. More than 20 years ago, Antioch College famously implemented the “Ask First” sexual-offense policy and was widely ridiculed for trying to codify what is now commonly understood as affirmative consent. Now, more than two decades later, issues of rape and sexual violence on campus continue to fester, with the federal government investigating dozens of colleges and universities for failing to comply with Title IX rape-investigation requirements, and victims coming forward publicly instead of remaining anonymous, like Columbia University senior Emma Sulkowicz and her performance piece Mattress Performance (Carry That
Weight), for which she carried a mattress around with her for most of the 2014-2015 academic year to protest her accused rapist’s continued presence on campus.
Columnists and pundits from all over the political and ideological spectrum have weighed in on whether or not date rape by and of college students is a serious problem or nothing more than a panic invented by the media and “feminists.” Now Jon Krakauer, who proved his understanding of the alienation of the young American male in Into the Wild, and of community psychology in Under the Banner of Heaven, has taken on college-rape culture in his dazzling, brutal, and dispassionate Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town. While no college is immune to sexual violence, the problem is intensified at large schools with Greek systems and athletic programs, where party traditions are entrenched and football heroes are fiercely defended by fans who’ve never met them, despite damning evidence against them. In Missoula, home of the Grizzlies, the players are so beloved that even local law enforcement was known to flock to the side of the accused. Hundreds of rapes were reported in Missoula between 2008 and 2013, but the county attorney’s office elected to prosecute only a handful. Because of the shockingly poor manner in which rape victims were treated by both police and the county attorney’s office, and their alleged attackers coddled, when a local reporter exposed these failings, the national spotlight shone on Missoula and its “rape crisis.” In fact, Krakauer reveals, statistics indicate that though the prosecution of accused rapists was lower in Missoula than elsewhere, the number of reported rapes was about average for a college town its size.
Krakauer, who begins the book by recounting the details of several rapes, spoke to victims and the men they accused, the families and friends of each party, police assigned to the cases, and attorneys for the prosecution and the defense, as well as university administrators and others in the community. He presents direct transcripts of many police interviews, university hearings, and courtroom proceedings, and weaves the stories together in such a way that, within the narrative, women who have been raped hear about other women who have been raped simply by running into their friends on campus. There is such a large number of important players in the book, many of them appearing under pseudonyms, that a dramatis personae is provided so readers can keep track of who’s who. The descriptions of the rapes are graphic and spare no sympathy for the perpetrators, most of whom claim the sex was consensual. Unfortunately, there is little justice to be found in Missoula — a reflection of the typical lack of justice nationwide for rape victims. But Missoula exposes, in a raw and unfiltered manner, just how poorly these women are treated, and how often they are made out to be at fault for the things that were done to them.