Whilst planning a road trip (that ended up not happening) with my daughter, we shopped the Audible.com website together for books we could both agree on. My criteria consist of three things. The book must be 1) interesting 2) at least 12 hours long (I want my money’s worth), 3) inspiring (I usually purchase biographies).
Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer seemed to fit the bill, even though it fell just short of the time limit. In addition, we lived in Montana for 11 years (in the rival Bobcat territory of Bozeman, however), and liked the idea of a story from home.
Reading this book (or listening to it) requires a strong stomach. I felt physically ill at times as the narrator read dialogue from the trials or recounted the victims’ interviews. Call me naïve, but man’s inhumanity to man (or woman, in this case) never ceases to take me by surprise.
Jon Krakauer does his homework. He used court transcripts, interviews and other public documents to build his investigative report of how one small college town, Missoula, Montana, handled rape complaints—from the police force to the district attorney’s office and from the University of Montana to the people of the town.
In typical Krakauer style, the author weaves together multiple stories into one book—in this case, the stories of victims of acquaintance rape at the University of Montana in Missoula. In telling their stories, Krakauer also paints a picture of the town of Missoula—a town that seems to draw its identity from its university sports team, the Grizzlies. One can’t live in Bozeman without knowing about the rivalry between the Grizzlies and the Bobcats (Montana State University’s team), but since college sports don’t interest me, I never realized to what extent the population of Missoula found their identity wrapped up in their local team.
Wrapped up enough, evidently, to let accusations against Grizzly athletes cloud their judgment—from those working on the police force to those who should have prosecuted student athletes. For example, young women who reported a rape to the local police force were often asked if they had a boyfriend and if they answered in the affirmative, the police officer would nod sagaciously and reply, “Are you sure you didn’t just cheat on your boyfriend and you’re calling it rape because you feel guilty?” (Krakauer lists plenty of statistics and studies that show that, nation wide, the incidence of false accusation is very small). The district attorney’s office would routinely decline to file charges against an accused rapist for ‘lack of evidence’ (even if the accused gave a taped confession to the police!).
All my life, I’ve harbored fears that a stranger would jump out of the bushes or force his way into my car in a dark parking lot and rape me at gunpoint. It’s a burden we women carry (please, tell me I am not alone in this fear—I carry bear spray with me when I go bird watching or hiking alone, I keep my keys pointed between my fingers to use as a possible weapon when walking to my car at night, I park under street lights and read all those scary warnings that show up on Facebook about not pulling over if an apparent police car tries to pull me over in a dark, out of the way place).
I’ve fretted in vain, evidently. According to Krakauer, only 15% of rapists are strangers to their victim. Eighty-five percent of all rapists know their victims (and those are just the numbers for the acquaintance rapes that are reported—many women do not go to a rape crisis center or police station after they are raped). The serial rapist a young woman needs to worry about might play football or basketball for the local college team—and he might rape multiple young women before anyone reports him.
In all of the cases that Krakauer studied to write the book, justice (time spent in a state penitentiary) was only served in one case—and at great emotional cost to the victim and her family. It’s all too easy to blame the victim—to put her every personal choice on trial and to somehow convince ourselves that the victim, by her choices or actions ‘deserved’ to be raped (of course, we never say that someone ‘deserved’ to be held up at gunpoint or have their house robbed or their car broken into).
According to Krakauer, we have an ‘adversarial’ system of justice whereby it is the duty of the defense attorney to do everything possible to have his client found innocent—which includes excoriating the character of the victim and building sympathy for the accused.
Common defense tactics include using key phrases such as “she moaned, I thought she liked it” (as if the only kind of moaning that exists in the world is a moan of pleasure) or “she didn’t fight back” (studies have shown that a woman’s response to danger is vastly different from a man’s—she will first analyze whether or not more harm could come to her by fighting back rather than just enduring).
In addition, our society makes it all too easy to treat male athletes as heroes who deserve better treatment than the regular old Joe who struggles to keep his job and works hard to provide for his family. We fawn over those with athletic prowess and grant them favors until they begin to believe that they can act with impunity. And that’s a tragedy.
But Krakauer fails to call our attention to the real tragedy of what happened in Missoula and continues to happen throughout the United States. Maybe he wants the reader to draw his own conclusions. In every single acquaintance rape case that Krakauer mentions, alcohol is involved. In most cases, both the victim and the perpetrator had consumed enough alcohol to make them legally drunk.
Add to the mix the tragedy of a culture that treats sex like a recreational sport and you have the recipe for a disaster. ‘Nice boys’ do horrible things because they drink too much and alcohol clouds their ability to reason. With their filters gone, they believe the lies that they deserve whatever they want, whenever they want it. They justify their behavior by blaming the victim and claiming that she ‘enjoys’ it or ‘deserves’ it (what woman enjoys or deserves to be gang raped by four members of a football team?).
The tragedy of acquaintance rape is that we’re teaching our daughters about stranger danger when we should be educating them about the effects of alcohol and how it can turn a safe person into a monster.We teach our girls about stranger danger and fail to educate them about alcohol danger. Click To Tweet
The tragedy of acquaintance rape is that we’re teaching our sons to never drive drunk when we should be teaching them how to always treat women with respect.We teach our boys to not drive drunk, but we fail to teach them to respect women. Click To Tweet
We protest vociferously when we hear about how women are treated in other countries and how young girls are forced to marry or sold into slavery—but what do we do about the tragedy in our own back yard? How can our justice system be changed so that victims of sexual assault and rape aren’t victimized multiple times (by the perpetrator AND the justice system)?What can we do about the tragedy in our own back yard? #acquaintancerape Click To Tweet
I highly recommend this book—even if it made me feel angry, helpless and outraged. I now have a better understanding of our justice system and what rape victims face in their search for justice and healing that goes beyond their physical wounds.
The young women who came forward and suffered through legal proceedings in an attempt to find justice inspire me. They decided to speak out because they hoped to save some other young woman the agony of their experience.
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