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Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, by Jon Krakauer

February 5, 2016

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, by Jon Krakauer.  Anchor (2016), Edition: Reprint, 416 pages

4 stars

A gritty account of a series of rapes that occurred in Missoula, Montana and the dismissive treatment of the women who accused their rapists.

In painful detail, Jon Krakauer recounts controversies that wrecked the college town of Missoula when several members of the beloved University of Montana football team were formally accused of rape. When the women tried to bring charges, various people in the justice system refused to take them seriously. The men claimed that they, not the women, were victims and gained extensive popular support. The court case came down to whether or not the women had given “consent.” The adversarial justice system simply added fuel to cultural wars.

What I found most impressive about Missoula was how Krakauer uses extensive quotations from the various actors in the events to show how those involved thought and felt.  As readers we see the deep pain the women suffered, and continued to suffer, in the face of those who were dismissive of them. Even more impressive was the evidence, some of it from court documents, of how little the men had considered the possibility that the women did not want their sexual advances and how those who should enforce the law assumed that the women were at fault for accusing their attackers.

All of the cases related in Missoula involved “acquaintance rape,” in which women are attacked by men whom they knew and even sometimes men whom they considered good friends. This type of rape is increasing in our society, especially in places like college campuses where young people are experimenting with new freedoms and confusion over acceptable behavior is prevalent.

Rape is an individual act involving a man’s violence against someone he believes he has the right to attack. Those who perform the act should be consistently punished. The victims should not be blamed. As Krakauer makes clear, men need to become sensitive and respect the wishes of sexual partners. But we as a society also have a responsibility to ensure that the people learn to honor each other rather than thoughtlessly harm them. All around us we see all kinds of violence condoned and even admired. Rape, especially acquaintance rape, is part of large pattern of hatred and abuse that must be rejected.  Men’s raping of women is possible in a society in which men learn that women and their needs are not important.

I read Missoula as part of an online reading group. I was impressed by the progress that women professors are making to help both female and male students become sensitive to issues relating to gender and violence.

Missoula is not as easy book to read or to consider, but it is an important one for all of us in understanding the reality for young women and men today. We all need to help everyone understand that rape, and dismissive violence against others, is not OK.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 5, 2016 8:01 pm

    You may have heard about this book already, but Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things seems like another way of looking at this issue.

  2. February 6, 2016 7:13 am

    This is on my wishlist, it’s something that needs discussion and change

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