Thursday, August 20, 2015

#36 [2015/CBR7] "Missoula" by Jon Krakauer

Jon Krakauer is my favorite non-fiction writer. He is passionate about his topics, always maintaining a careful attention to detail that I appreciate. So I was shocked when I was walking through the airport back in May and found a new book by Krakauer, Missoula (2015), on the shelves. How did I not know about this?

I guess I should admit that I dreaded reading Missoula when I learned that the subject was a rash of acquaintance rapes on a college campus, The consequences and attitudes surrounding rape are not something I delve into lightly. I also thought I already knew a lot about the subject and was not looking forward to the painful, emotional slog that was sure to come.

At the end of his book, Krakauer discusses the severe emotional distress of a friend of his, who had been raped, and how it opened his eyes to a subject that had simply not affected him in the past. "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 feel ashamed." (348) And so, Krakauer began to look into the subject.

For this book, Krakauer focuses on a series of acquaintance rapes that involved University of Montana students from 2008 through 2012, often involving athletes as the aggressors. These stories first came to light through a series of articles in the local paper by Gwen Florio. Krakauer unquestionably sympathizes with the victims, telling their stories in vivid, disturbing detail: from the attack, the immediate aftermath, and all the way through PTSD symptoms years later. A large part of Krakauer's discussion involves the justice system and the University's reactions to these attacks and how these reactions affected the victims. In addition, Krakauer takes information garnered from David Lisak, an expert on rape, in order to give readers a wider perspective and to understand why some women react in ways that may be unexpected.

Although Krakauer focuses on a number of women throughout this book, Allison Huguet is the anchor. She is unbelievably courageous, and was the only woman in the book able to get her rapist convicted. Her story is harrowing: a young woman home from college and hanging out with her old high school friends. A University of Montana student and football player, whom Allison had always looked up to as a brother, rapes her while she is sleeping on his couch. She wakes up to the pain of it and doesn't move because she's afraid he's going to kill her. As soon as he leaves, she runs from the house, hysterical, holding up her pants with one hand, and calling her mom on her cell. The only reason they are able to get a conviction is that the police were able to get a taped confession with Allison's help. If not, it is likely the crime against Allison will go the way of the many other women detailed in this book.

Krakauer is careful to make the point a number of times that Missoula, although the chosen subject of this story, is not atypical. The incidence of rape is slightly lower in Missoula than the national average and rapists are very rarely convicted throughout the country. Numerous campuses across the country have faced similar scandals. In other words, this is not an isolated problem.

Besides the infuriating attitude of the Chief Deputy DA Kirsten Pabst, the ignorant attitudes of the blindly loyal sports fans, and the unfairness of the justice system, what hit me hardest while reading the book was learning about the research of David Lisak. Lisak gave male college students a number of questions asking if they had continued to have sex when their partner resisted, etc. that clearly described rape without using the word. Anyone who said yes, he would bring in and interview. He found that 90% of rapes were committed by a relatively small group of serial rapists. These serial rapists also often victimized others, including abusing children and animals. The number of circumstances where there might have been an honest misunderstanding or a one-time mistake were few and far between.

What haunted me most, though, was the reenactment of an interview Lisak had with one of his research subjects. The college male describes how he chooses "targets" to invite to his frat parties. He explained how he attached himself to one young Freshman, plied her with spiked punch and then brought her up to his room. He continues to explain how she squirmed and said no, but he held her down with his arm across her throat and "fucked" her. Then he went back to the party and she left. He had other victims as well. I couldn't stop thinking about that poor woman and what that experience had been like for her. I also imagined how that guy's story would change if the police showed up. And what would have happened to that girl if she'd tried to press charges. It made me feel sick, but I did go looking for the video on the internet to see and judge for myself. It was just as Krakauer described it. (The link is here for educational purposes, but be prepared to be disturbed.)

In law school we spent quite a few days arguing over the logistics of proving rape in a court of law. My reading of the beginning of Missoula may have been colored by this background. Although I believed the women, it was hard to shut off the part of my brain that was calculating how it would play in court. Eventually, I got into the stories of the women as they went through the process of accusing their attackers.

This review is already overlong, and I could probably go on for awhile more. I am impressed that Krakauer wrote a book on this subject, presumably to educate himself and the public to what these women are going through, and what they face when they seek justice. What I got out of this book was that most rapes are committed by serial rapists, men who are not "nice guys who made a mistake" but predators who victimize again and again until they are stopped. I was also reminded that going through the justice system is hell on rape survivors and probably something I would probably choose not to do if I were put in that situation.

I do wish Krakauer had a little more information on the rapists themselves, however. Lisak stated that rapists in his study tended to be narcissistic and unlikely to empathize with others. But do most even realize that what they're doing is criminal? Or do they know it's criminal but simply don't care because it is incredibly unlikely they will be punished? I don't even know if that kind of information is out there, but I was actually looking for some perspective from the attackers. I don't know if Missoula will change the minds of those who attacked or dismissed the women in Krakauer's story or the countless other women who go through this, but I hope someone will pick up this book, learn something, and have a better understanding of what acquaintance rape and its consequences really are.

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