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

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Lately I’ve been missing college. Not in a serious way, because let’s face it: life is better in the real world! (Everyone lied when they said otherwise.) But I do miss the classes. This is part of the reason why I read Missoula by Jon Krakauer. It reminded me of the kind of book I would have read in one of my Women’s Studies courses. It was a warm and snuggly feeling, being able to talk about women’s rights in a class full of people who care about women’s rights. In the “real world” it’s a lot harder to find kindred spirits, and since I’ve graduated I’ve felt a lot of anti-feminist backlash happening in the public discourse. This is mostly because more people are talking about these issues, which is good. It’s good to have your views challenged, to talk to people who think differently. You don’t get anything done talking to people who already agree with you. It’s just exhausting, that’s all. I’m sick of bringing up feminist issues with people only to be answered with, “Well, men have it hard, too.” It’s sad to say, but I think because of this I definitely pay less attention to what’s going on in the current feminist discourse.

I think a lot of people have this image in their head about the college feminist, and it isn’t always a good image, but having been one I know why feminism is so important and exhilarating to women in college. It can feel so damn powerless to be a young woman in America, and trying to piece together why that is can be empowering.

I didn’t feel empowered reading Missoula. I just felt angry. There were times in the book where I actually felt too upset to finish, and I wondered why I picked it up in the first place. These stories sound like all the stories I have heard before. And now that I’m older, it feels kind of pointless to be reading them still. I don’t need another book to make me mad about rape culture! I’m already mad! I guess I’ve lost the energy to constantly rail against it all. It’s tiring, facing down a world that really doesn’t understand why you’d be so mad about the fact that a lot of people really don’t care when women are raped.

Krakauer tells the story of a handful of women who had been date raped at the University of Montana in Missoula, which was investigated by the Department of Justice for its mishandling of several cases of sexual assault. He details the ways that these women were failed and even outright attacked by the legal system. It goes through rape accounts, trial transcripts, trolling message board comments by college football fans. It can be scream inducing.

There were moments in some of these women’s stories where my heart just dropped, but there are some heartening things about Missoula. Not exactly happy-making, but enough to give me hope. The University of Montana, to its credit, seemed to take the punishment of rapists very seriously in most of the stories, making an effort to not continue to fail rape victims like they had been failed in the past on countless college campuses. The very fact that Jon Krakauer wrote this book makes me feel like things are looking up, and that people are taking these issues seriously. They’re not just discussed by Women’s Studies students anymore. It sucks that people will take this more seriously because it was written by a respected male non-fiction writer, but I think that’s a reality. Not to pat Krakauer on the back, but it’s nice to see a man using his voice to shed light on these problems.

I think the thing that upsets me so much about these accounts is the rabid hatred rape victims received in the cases where a football star is accused. A lot of times when a rape victim reports the crime and it is brought to the public’s consciousness, it’s called a “witch hunt” – the implication being that the men accused are innocent and being unfairly attacked. Then the rape victim is victimized all over again by public hatred and legal BS. And you’re going to call a rapist on trial a witch hunt?! Seriously, the stories about the shit defense attorneys pulled in this book made me sick. People have an obsession with fake rape accusations, when the fact is that very few women actually feel comfortable reporting sexual assaults. After reading this book, I don’t think I would feel comfortable reporting an assault if I were in the same situation, and that makes me so mad.

Missoula isn’t telling us anything we don’t already know: Victims need our support. We need to stop treating the victim as if they are lying criminals. I hope this book helps people understand.

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