As you can read in the synopsis, this book chronicles what at times seems like an unusual concentration of rapes on the campus of the University of MoAs you can read in the synopsis, this book chronicles what at times seems like an unusual concentration of rapes on the campus of the University of Montana by members of the football team. Of course, despite the high concentration of rape, there is nothing unusual about it. What Krakauer describes in Montana, both the frequency of rape and the difficulties victims face while trying to receive justice, is pretty typical across the country, especially on college campuses. Krakauer tells about the assaults and the subsequent court cases, as well as the atmosphere in a small city in which many people instinctively defend the football players and condemn their accusers.
It seems important in reviewing this book to start by saying that it is not an impartial investigation designed to come to a conclusion about guilt or innocence. Krakauer is clearly on the side of the victims and clearly intends to show the both the trauma of rape and the trauma of trying to go through the legal system in the public eye. I can see why people would criticize the book for this. However, while false accusations of rape do happen, they are dwarfed by the number of rapes that are never reported, reported and never prosecuted, and rapists who are found not guilty due to reasonable doubt. It would be easy to focus on the guilt or innocence of the accused in each case Krakauer presents, and he clearly believes that all of the accused are guilty, but I think that would miss the point of the book. Instead, the book left me with many questions. What can be done to reduce the number of sexual assaults? What can be done to make reporting a rape less tortuous and futile? What can be done to change cultures in which rape is seen as normal? And does our adversarial system of justice work in rape cases?
When I was reading Missoula I was struck again and again by the fact that that when you are 19 or 20 years old you have no concept of how young you still are. At this age young adults are still basically adolescents, with still developing impulse control and connection of cause and effect. It was incredibly apparent that most of the accused rapists in the book knew that rape was wrong, but weren't self aware enough to think of themselves as rapists. Instead they merely thought that they "took advantage" of girls who had too much to drink, even when they intended to get the girls intoxicated for the purpose of raping them. Rapists are people who jump out of bushes with a knife, not people who force themselves on others at a party. Even after the fact, they often seemed to feel victimized by having their lives turned upside down. This statement about immaturity is not made to excuse the rapists in any way. However, we may be giving college rapists too much credit if we believe that they understand that what they are doing is rape and the lasting violence of their act. In one example Krakauer gives he writes about a freshman who assaulted a young woman while she was passed out. He was attempting to do something he had seen in pornography (the incredible normalizing of violence against women in pornography is a whole other topic), something that no one with a shred of empathy or any sexual experience would think was a good idea. He seemed to honestly believe that what he was doing was okay because they had been making out and she passed out.
This is all a way of saying that we have got to engage boys in the topic of rape. Reading books like Missoula that are clear about what rape is and about the damage it causes, somewhere around the age of 14 or 15, possibly within the confines of mandatory high school classes for boys about rape, will not stop rape. This won't help the truly unfeeling who don't care about anyone but themselves. That might sound like a description for all rapists, but just as drunk driving fatalities have gone down due to education, I believe the same thing could happen with education about sexual assault. Again, this may sound absurd. Why should you have to teach anyone that rape is wrong? But as I was reading Krakauer's book I couldn't help thinking that several of the rapists would have benefited from having thought through the topic ahead of time rather than acting in the moment, influenced by alcohol and sexual desire. Let's be clear, these are not good people who just made a mistake. Rather, they are people with highly questionable maturity, empathy, values and judgement. Anything that helps them think about rape ahead of time, so that they might understand a little better what they are about to do, can only help.
There are many, many unsettling things within Missoula. Clearly the most unsettling is the number of young men who just don't seem to care about or understand the lifetime of pain they are inflicting for the momentary satisfaction of sex. But almost equally disturbing is reading about horrifying targeting of the victims by college football fans who just assume they are liars looking for attention. There isn't a lot to say about this other than that we all need to jump to stop jumping to conclusions without evidence, and that we all need to understand we might be wrong, and therefore have a little goddamn sympathy.
Also, terribly disturbing is the suspicion and outright doubt some of the accusers faced when going to the police. Several of the victims faced questions like "Do you have a boyfriend?" because of the belief that many women claim they have been raped when they cheat on a boyfriend as a way of covering up their infidelity. They also had to deal with prosecutors who didn't want to take rape cases to trial because of the low conviction rate. It's important to say that there were also people within the police who could not have been better advocates. If there is a ray of hope in the book it is that (some) police departments seem to be moving in the right direction; understanding the incredible courage it takes to go through the criminal justice system as a rape victim, knowing that there is such a low rate of conviction. Believing someone when they say they have been raped is not doing away with the presumption of innocence any more than believing someone when they say that their house has been robbed is.
I'm rambling terribly, but much of Missoula is spent on the trials of two particular football players. What becomes incredibly apparent in these trial is how immensely difficult it is to prove rape beyond a reasonable doubt. Due to the lack of witnesses, the fact that often victims don't report rape until long after it has happened, the assumptions people make about how a rape victim should act ("They can't have been raped since they didn't fight back."), and the belief that a rapists hides in bushes even though most rapes are committed by people the victim knows, most accused rapists are found not guilty. I don't know the answer for this. The presumption of innocence is not something that can be thrown away just because many people are getting away with horrid crimes. But the justice system is clearly not working for victims of rape, setting rapists free to rape again.
In any case, Missoula is not an enjoyable read, but a book that people, especially men, need to read. Krakauer raises incredibly important questions while highlighting the guts of women who go through a second hell trying to make sure that their rapists aren't set free to rape someone else. ...more