From bestselling author Jon Krakauer, a stark, powerful, meticulously reported narrative about a series of sexual assaults at the University of Montana — stories that illuminate the human drama behind the national plague of campus rape
Missoula, Montana, is a typical college town, with a highly regarded state university, bucolic surroundings, a lively social scene, and an excellent football team — the Grizzlies — with a rabid fan base.
The Department of Justice investigated 350 sexual assaults reported to the Missoula police between January 2008 and May 2012. Few of these assaults were properly handled by either the university or local authorities. In this, Missoula is also typical.
A DOJ report released in December of 2014 estimates 110,000 women between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four are raped each year. Krakauer’s devastating narrative of what happened in Missoula makes clear why rape is so prevalent on American campuses, and why rape victims are so reluctant to report assault.
Acquaintance rape is a crime like no other. Unlike burglary or embezzlement or any other felony, the victim often comes under more suspicion than the alleged perpetrator. This is especially true if the victim is sexually active; if she had been drinking prior to the assault — and if the man she accuses plays on a popular sports team. The vanishingly small but highly publicized incidents of false accusations are often used to dismiss her claims in the press. If the case goes to trial, the woman’s entire personal life becomes fair game for defense attorneys.
This brutal reality goes a long way towards explaining why acquaintance rape is the most underreported crime in America. In addition to physical trauma, its victims often suffer devastating psychological damage that leads to feelings of shame, emotional paralysis and stigmatization. PTSD rates for rape victims are estimated to be 50%, higher than soldiers returning from war.
In Missoula, Krakauer chronicles the searing experiences of several women in Missoula — the nights when they were raped; their fear and self-doubt in the aftermath; the way they were treated by the police, prosecutors, defense attorneys; the public vilification and private anguish; their bravery in pushing forward and what it cost them.
Some of them went to the police. Some declined to go to the police, or to press charges, but sought redress from the university, which has its own, non-criminal judicial process when a student is accused of rape. In two cases the police agreed to press charges and the district attorney agreed to prosecute. One case led to a conviction; one to an acquittal. Those women courageous enough to press charges or to speak publicly about their experiences were attacked in the media, on Grizzly football fan sites, and/or to their faces. The university expelled three of the accused rapists, but one was reinstated by state officials in a secret proceeding. One district attorney testified for an alleged rapist at his university hearing. She later left the prosecutor’s office and successfully defended the Grizzlies’ star quarterback in his rape trial. The horror of being raped, in each woman’s case, was magnified by the mechanics of the justice system and the reaction of the community.
Krakauer’s dispassionate, carefully documented account of what these women endured cuts through the abstract ideological debate about campus rape. College-age women are not raped because they are promiscuous, or drunk, or send mixed signals, or feel guilty about casual sex, or seek attention. They are the victims of a terrible crime and deserving of compassion from society and fairness from a justice system that is clearly broken.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.16(w) x 7.94(h) x 0.87(d)|
About the Author
Jon Krakauer is the author of Eiger Dreams, Into the Wild, Into Thin Air, Under the Banner of Heaven, Where Men Win Glory, and Three Cups of Deceit, all of which are available in Anchor paperback and eBook editions. He is also the editor of the Modern Library Exploration series.
“Jon Krakauer combines the tenacity and courage of the finest tradition of investigative journalism with the stylish subtlety and profound insight of the born writer.” —American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature citation
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Reading Group Guide
Reports of sexual assaults on college campuses are capturing the headlines. The questions, topics for discussion, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Missoula, Jon Krakauer’s hard-hitting investigation into a spate of rapes at the University of Montana that sheds disturbing light on a crisis that extends far beyond the Missoula campus.
According to studies, one in five women will be sexually assaulted during their college years, many by someone they know [The Washington Post, December 17, 2014]. And this startling statistic tells only part of the story: Many women fail to report the crime and only a fraction of rape allegations are prosecuted. Jon Krakauer goes behind the headlines to tell the stories of several victims at the University of Montana. Drawing on first-person interviews with victims, university disciplinary proceedings, police reports, court transcripts, and other oral and written sources, he explores why sexual assaults are so common, the reactions of both victims and their alleged rapists, and how these incidents are handled—and mishandled—by the academic community and the criminal justice system. His conclusions demand a new approach to dealing with sexual violence in our society and the way we treat both victims and perpetrators.
1. What insights does Missoula offer into campus culture that can lead to or enable acquaintance rape? Do the attitudes and atmosphere at the University of Montana resemble schools with which you are familiar? Is this culture unique to campus life or does it reflect American culture more generally?
2. For many students (and their parents), college campuses promise a sense of security—a feeling that people watch out for one another. In what ways is this assumption belied by the situations discussed in Missoula? Consider both the circumstances of the sexual assaults and the reactions of other students who learned about the allegations.
3. The descriptions of the assaults feature graphic, harrowing details. Is this essential to our understanding of the victims’ experiences?
4. Almost all the cases Krakauer discusses involve drinking. Does this color your notions of responsibility and blame? Does it influence your feelings about the victims? The perpetrators?
5. “Not unlike many other rape victims, [Keely] Williams reacted by wondering if she was somehow to blame” (p. 23). What does this imply about our understanding of rape? How does it relate to Allison Huguet’s reluctance to ruin her attacker’s life (p. 28), Kelsey Belnap’s to “get anyone in trouble” (p. 42), and Cecilia Washburn’s own testimony at trial (p. 273–74)?
6. Allison Huguet’s mother “reminded Donaldson that he had betrayed [Allison’s] trust” (p. 26). Does the personal betrayal inherent in acquaintance rape make it more traumatic than a rape committed by a stranger?
7. One of the most unsettling aspects of the book is Krakauer's exploration of how student athletes at the University of Montana are insulated from repercussions when they commit crimes. Do you think that a willingness to excuse the bad behavior of athletes is widespread? In general, are young men still allowed greater latitude than young women in issues of sexual activity?
8. “Most women are all too familiar with men . . . whose sense of prerogative renders them deaf when women say, ‘No thanks,’ ‘Not interested,’ or even ‘Fuck off, creep’” (p. 104). What does the portrait of serial rapists (pp. 132–137) convey about how a “sense of prerogative” can escalate into continued offenses? Do you agree with David Lisak that “predators like Frank get away with it over and over . . . because most of us are in denial” (p. 135)?
9. Kraukauer recounts the emotional difficulties the women he interviewed faced in the aftermath of their assaults (pp. 68, 173, 186–87) and cites several experts on post-traumatic symptoms that emerge both immediately after an incident and in the months and perhaps years to come (pp. 69, 106, 155). How are victims affected by the legal outcomes of their cases—that is, whether their attackers are brought to justice? Are the constitutional rights guaranteed to the accused unfair to victims of crime (p. 247)?
10. What do the meetings the Huguets have with prosecutors Shaun Donovan (pp. 178–185) and Suzy Boylan (p. 188–89) demonstrate about the difficulties of pursuing rape cases, even when the accused has confessed? What legal obligations do prosecutors have to victims?
11. Krakauer writes, “Seemingly by design, the American legal system encourages defense counsel to be as mendacious as possible” (p. 266). Do the defense attorneys in the Johnson trial go beyond their professional responsibility to create doubts about Cecilia Washburn and present a sympathetic portrait of Johnson? Do the proceedings reveal a fundamental flaw in the adversarial nature of our justice system?
12. Krakauer casts a harsh light on Kirsten Pabst, who as Missoula County prosecutor often refused to file charges in rape cases and later left her position to join Jordan Johnson’s defense team (pp. 97–98, 107, 259). Does her behavior—and her manner at the Jordan trial (pp. 282–288)—strike you as unethical, or can her choices be justified? What motives—both professional and personal—might explain her actions?
13. Throughout the book, people—including the police, defense attorneys, prosecutors, and friends of the victim and the accused—offer reasons why a woman might lie about being raped (pp. 23, 45, 60, 66,105, 116). What beliefs about girls and women in today’s society underlie these theories?
14. Why are allegations of rape often doubted or dismissed by authorities? Do you think reports of acquaintance rape should be subject to more scrutiny than rape by a stranger? Discuss how misconceptions about rape (pp. 278–81) affect police investigations, court proceedings, and ultimately a jury’s decision (p. 334).
15. Is the fear of false rape accusations valid? What are the short- and long-term consequences of the publicity surrounding the cases at Duke University, Polytechnic High School (pp.119–20), and the notorious article in Rolling Stone about the alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia?
16. Should schools play a disciplinary role in sexual assaults that occur on campus? Based on the cases Kraukauer recounts, what can school administrators accomplish that the police and court system cannot? How well do the protocols at the University of Montana and other universities (p. 198) balance the need to avoid punishing the innocent and protect the college community from harm? Do schools have an ethical obligation to inform local authorities about a campus sexual assault?
17. After the U.S. Department of Justice released a damning report on the Missoula County Attorney’s office, an agreement was reached to change the way rapes were investigated (pp. 357–59). Is the intervention of the federal government necessary to institute reforms in local judicial systems?
18. What are the strengths and weaknesses of Krakauer’s case-study approach to campus rape—his focus on a single city? How do the specifics of Missoula help us begin to deal with a national crisis?
19. Krakauer also chose to report from the perspective of the victims (p. xiv). Does this influence your reaction to the book? What, if any, information or points of view would you have liked to have learned more about?
20. What effect might the experiences recounted in Missoula have on a woman who is wondering whether to report a rape?
Barnes & Noble Review Interview with Jon Krakauer
You're addressing a national problem our inability to address widespread sexual assault via our current justice system by focusing on one American city. What led you to choose Missoula, Montana, for this book?
In 2012 I began tracking approximately thirty sexual assault cases in different parts of the country as I tried to decide whether to write a book about acquaintance rape. One of the cases was in Missoula, and when I saw that a sentencing hearing for this case had been scheduled for October 2012, I decided to attend, although the hearing ended up being postponed until January 2013. When I finally went, and observed a young woman named Allison Huguet testify against her assailant, I was so inspired by her courage that I decided to ask her if I could write a book about her case, and she agreed. Later, as I learned of other cases in Missoula that suggested the city had a systemic problem with the way it handled sexual assaults, I expanded the book to include these cases, too.
You write, citing a study that analyzed and debunked notions of the prevalence of false accusations of rape that "When an individual is raped in this country, more than 90 percent of the time the rapist gets away with the crime." Most readers would, I think, be shocked by that figure; why are we so tuned out to the scale of the problem?
I'm not entirely sure why so many Americans are in such denial. Having said that, I must confess that until a few years ago, when I was alerted to the problem upon learning that a young woman I know had been raped by a man she trusted (a man whom I also trusted), I, too, was ignorant about the scale of the problem. Perhaps it's because acknowledging how big the problem is, and how much harm it causes, it so disturbing. It's easier to pretend it doesn't really exist that it's simply a hysterical overreaction to a relative handful of women who have made false accusations.
You movingly connect the PTSD suffered by rape victims to that characterizing the post-combat experience of many veterans of service in Iraq and Afghanistan. How well do we understand the effects of trauma on the psyche, and should we be rethinking how our justice system works in light of what we now know?
Most of us have a very poor understanding of the profound impact that being raped can have on those who have been traumatized. The science is very clear that sexual assault is often such a horrifying experience that it changes the fundamental chemistry of the brain, causing victims to act in ways that can seem baffling. For example, most rape victims don't resist, even when the assailant doesn't have a weapon. Many victims irrationally blame themselves for being assaulted. One of the victims in my book actually drove her assailant home after he raped her. Needless to say, such behavior can make it hard for prosecutors to convince juries that the sex wasn't consensual. To win convictions in rape cases, prosecutors need advanced training that allows them to grasp the scientific basis for the counterintuitive behavior exhibited by many victims, in order to make sense of such behavior to juries.
You've dealt with both terrible crime, personal tragedy, and individual heroism in your previous books. This seems to be a departure in that you are explicitly addressing an ongoing and widespread social problem. What do you hope we learn from Missoula? Is there a particular set of changes you want to see happen?
Mostly I hope people come to understand that relatively few women lie about being sexually assaulted the most reliable peer- reviewed studies show that only 2 percent to 10 percent of men charged with rape are falsely accused. To be labeled a rapist carries an indelible stigma, and to wrongly accuse even a single man can cause irreparable harm. But it can be just as harmful to let men who are guilty of rape escape accountability, because doing so sends a false message that the women they have raped are liars unjustly stigmatizing their victims, compounding the trauma of being sexually assaulted. It's easy to forget that the injury done to a rape survivor who is disbelieved can be even more devastating than the injury done to an innocent man who is unjustly accused of rape. And without question, the former happens much more frequently than the latter.
May 6, 2015