I’m a fan of Jon Krakauer’s other work, but when I heard he was coming out with a comprehensive look at the Missoula rape scandals in the last few years, I was hesitant. I had followed along with much of the reporting on those cases and am pretty tuned-in to the larger issues of rape culture in this country. Did I really want to read what a white dude (who may or may not be sympathetic to rape survivors) had to say about it? But I was intrigued after reading this interview he did with Salon. He talks about why he was interested in the topic (he found out a very close friend had been raped and how it shaped her life), why he chose Missoula (there was a paper trail he could base the book on), and his threshold for including things in the book. He says, “I’ve never been more meticulous or more careful about corroborating stuff. What people don’t realize is that I’ve got stuff that I’m 95 percent sure is true that I didn’t report because I wasn’t 110 percent. I couldn’t find that third person to corroborate it.”
I am so glad I chose to read this book. It wasn’t an easy one emotionally, but it was incredibly powerful. His obsessive research and laser focus on what exactly happened in Missoula opened my eyes in a new way. In Missoula, he writes about several women and their experience from pre-rape all the way to their dealings with the justice system and university administration. Through the details of these women’s stories, Krakauer illuminates how we as a society are coddling rapists, allowing them to attack with impunity, and utterly failing the 19.3% of American women raped in their lifetime (2014 CDC study).
Krakauer’s writing is skillful as usual. He deftly weaves the stories of these women together to paint a damning picture. Missoula spends most of its pages following Allison Huguet and Cecilia Washburn (pseudonym) who were both raped by University of Montana football players. It was heartbreaking to read their traumatic experiences and even more heartbreaking reading about how difficult the process of working with police and prosecutors and going to trial was. Unfortunately these pages are filled with rapists who think they’re entitled to the bodies of women, cops who think victims are lying before doing any investigative work, University of Montana football employees shielding their precious
players rapists, community members calling these brave women bitches and cunts, and lawyers in the SA office refusing to prosecute rape cases because there’s a chance of losing. There are even stories of rapists confessing to cops and prosecutors still declining to prosecute. What the actual fuck?
Aside from the rapists themselves, the person who came out of this book looking like a monster is current Missoula county prosecutor, Kirsten Pabst. Before she became county prosecutor, she worked as a state’s attorney and then quit to start her own practice, ending up as one of the defense attorneys for Cecilia Washburn’s rapist. On her website, Pabst boasts of a 99% success rate as a SA, a number that can only mean she’s choosing to only prosecute slam dunk cases. In that Slate interview Krakauer says:
Pabst is a fascinating and infuriating figure to me. She is a victim of domestic abuse— as she has talked about herself, she’s had all this trauma— and yet over and over again her default is to believe the perpetrator. There’s never enough probable cause in her book. Ever. I understand she’s a defense attorney and she’s gotta play that role and do everything in her power to get the quarterback acquitted. But after that, when she was no longer working to keep him out of jail, she posted a blog post saying basically I hope the prosecutors learn a lesson, this case never should have been prosecuted… I mean that case… the evidence was strong. I believe he was guilty. And she’s saying there wasn’t even probable cause to prosecute. And now that woman is the chief prosecutor for Missoula County. That is not a good thing. This is a deep-seated belief. She talks about compassion, but if your head prosecutor believes that you shouldn’t even be prosecuting cases unless there’s just no question whatsoever… That’s disturbing.
One of the most disturbing things about this book is that Missoula is not unusual. The rape statistics in Missoula are pretty average for its size. Missoula is America. Chances are high that you live in a place that has many of the criminal justice problems Missoula has. Chances are high that you know at least one rape survivor. Chances are also high that you know at least one rapist. Rapists mostly aren’t men in the bushes hiding in masks. They are boyfriends, husbands, friends, and colleagues that should be held responsible by our communities, not shielded by them.
Please seriously consider reading this book. It’s definitely not a light read, but it’s an extremely important book and very well-written.