Jon Krakauer’sMissoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town” is an exceptional piece of work that seamlessly marries narrative and fact in a heartbreaking story of how our culture (and by definition, our justice system) marginalizes sexual assault victims in defense of status quo stereotypes. Missoula chronicles the story of several college-aged women, who by no fault of their own, found themselves on the receiving end of sexual assaults perpetrated by known and trusted friends. Defenders of the Missoula District Attorney’s office and the University of Montana (primarily their athletic department) maintain that such reports were no more credible than a modern day witch hunt. Perhaps this is because, as Krakauer points out, Missoula and the University of Montana had incidence rates on par with other college towns in the United States. It’s not that Missoula was the “rape capital of the country” as some had put it, but more that the country as a whole has gotten far too comfortable blaming the victim of these crimes, so much so that we didn’t even realize the magnitude of the problem. Some of the excuses law enforcement gave for not prosecuting these crimes involved some exceptional mental gymnastics, such as believing that these women were claiming rape because they had cheated on their boyfriends and did not want to own up to it. What is ridiculous about this assumption is that if one were cheating (on their boyfriend or their girlfriend), would it not just be easier to lie about it and not say anything rather than make up a story about rape? In each of these cases, no one else besides the perpetrator and the victim knew about the assaults, so why concoct a lie about cheating when no need to tell such a lie existed in the first place. Such bizarre explanations outline the utter resistance people have to believing assault victims and holding (mostly) men accountable for their misuse of power and sexuality. Like the Kent case, this resistance was not relegated to just men and the people who did validate these women’s experiences were not just other women. Kirsten Pabst, the Missoula County Prosecutor at the time, notoriously denied the reports of the victims under her watch so much so that a Department of Justice investigation led to many well-needed and mandatory reforms. Most compelling was Krakauer’s inclusion of the research conducted by Dr. David Lisak, Clinical Psychologist and retired researcher from University of Massachusetts Boston (see Chapter 10). What his research suggests is that many rapists go undetected, because much like we are learning about Bill Cosby, serial rapists whose strategy is to gain the trust of their victims first rarely get caught. This is in part because victim blaming is so pervasive in our culture and these rapists use that to their advantage. As we are learning with Cosby’s behavior, rarely are campus/acquaintance rapes just a one-time misunderstanding between two people. Approximately 6% of men in the population have committed undetected rape and 63% of these are repeat offenders who averaged about 6 assaults per offender by the time they are in their early to mid 20’s. As Krakauer notes, “A very small number of men in the population…had raped a great many women with utter impunity.”

For other great reads about Krakauer’s new book check out the New York Times  and The New Yorker.