Released earlier this year, Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town is the latest effort by acclaimed author Jon Krakauer, who's written such renown titles as Into the Wild, Into Thin Air and Under the Banner of Heaven.
The book deals with real stories and accounts of rape and sexual assaults in the college town of Missoula in Montana, USA during the 2000s to 2013. Missoula is described as not only a college town, but one that is in love with the college’s football team. The town loves its football team. There is a strong sense of spirit and camaraderie, amongst the football enthusiasts. Which makes the book all the more distressing as he recants multiple stories of rape, specifically involving those in the college football team.
Krakauer tells a number of stories of rape in Missoula, however, the crux of the book focuses primarily on two cases: one of Allison Huguet and another in Cecilia Washburn. These are two stories with two different outcomes, however, are perhaps representative of the activity that was going on within the campus. More than just providing insight into sexual assault, Krakauer focuses on an even tougher subset of this type of crime, namely, the idea of acquaintance rape. This is the act of being raped by someone you know. Krakauer provides us with a full picture of each story. We learn not only about the rape incidents but also about their general upbringing and lifestyle, their personal struggles with being victims, the courtroom battles and the fallouts from those trials. In both cases, the accused rapists were star football players from the college football team, and friends of the victims. The stories become more difficult to read as we learn of how the victims become even more victimized. With the girls bringing the accused to trial, they are shamed by the community for bringing such negative light and publicity to their beloved football stars.
Krakauer also dives into the justice system, and how the existing system is unfit and perhaps too antiquated to handle the trials and cases involving acquaintance rape. At one point, the crimes in Missoula become so rampant that the government at the national level has to dive in and investigate the lack of attention given by the local justice system regarding these cases.
The book is mired in some controversy, as some say that his opinion appears too biased while others question why he chose to zero in on Missoula, a town that he admits within the book where the average rape occurrence is no more than the national average across the US. Krakauer makes no qualms about his bias though. At the conclusion of the book, he tells a personal story of how the subject matter landed on his plate in the first place. And perhaps it’s from this angle that lands him the biased edge.
Despite the different controversies surrounding the book, it is still a fascinating read and educational, as someone who is unfamiliar with the idea of acquaintance rape. Most of the time, when I read about stories of rape and sexual assault in the news, it is often cases where someone is assaulted by a stranger. In fact, Krakauer sheds light on this perspective. The sentiment that I have is quite common; he states that most people associate rapists with someone hiding in the dark gloomy shadows with a ski mask on. The truth is, a lot of times, this isn’t the case. The rapist can be anyone and even someone you know. Even more unfortunate is that a lot of times, the cases of acquaintance rape go unreported.
Missoula is a grim read, but a worthwhile read and one that sheds light on a crime that we don’t always hear about. Until next time, later geeks!