Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town

by Jon Krakauer
Genres: Nonfiction
Published on 2015
Pages: 384
Format: Hardcover Source: Library

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.

“Rape is a much more common crime than most people realize, and women of college age are most frequently the victims.” 

That is the opening line of the author’s note at the beginning of the book and symbolic of what disturbed me about this book.

“(After hearing a friend’s rape story), I was angry with myself for being so uninformed – not only about her ordeal but about non-stranger rape in general.  So I resolved to learn what I could about it.  I did a lot of reading, and I sought out rape survivors who were willing to share their stories.  Writing this book was an outgrowth of that quest.

As the scope of my research expanded, I was stunned to discover that many of my acquaintances, and even several women in my own family, had been sexually assaulted by men they trusted.  The more I listened to these women’s accounts, the more disturbed I became.  I’d had no idea that rape was so prevalent, or could cause such deep and intractable pain.  My ignorance was inexcusable, and it made me ashamed.”  page 348

How?  How do you not know this?

As horrible as the events described in this book are, I was never surprised and that’s sad.  I kept thinking, “Yeah, and?” waiting for something to happen that was supposed to be a revelation.  Sadly, it was just same old same old.  Women aren’t believed.  People think women make up rape stories for attention and to ruin nice men’s lives.  Rapes aren’t prosecuted.  (I admit to being slightly surprised that it was a female assistant DA who was the biggest impediment to bringing rape cases to trial.)

The author does a good job detailing what happened to women in Missoula who reported rapes.  I guess if you don’t know about this issue this book would be an eye-opener. I guess if you’ve never had to give a thought to your safety when alone with a person bigger and stronger than you then it might be surprising.

Does still it take a book by a prominent male writer to shed light on an issue that women have been living with forever?  He writes about the work of Gwen Florio, a female journalist in Missoula who was covering this as it happened.  I would have like to see her interviewed in this book instead of just using her research as a source.  Here’s her statement on the book.

(Spoiler) If you have the stomach for it, check out this article.  It is about how hard it is for one of the accused rapists discussed in the book.  The publication of this book brings up all kinds of stuff he’d rather not remember.  Notice there isn’t a word in the article about the woman involved.