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

Montana has always had a special place in my heart because I lived and grew up there. I still remember making trips out to Billings (the state’s most populous town and the place of my birth) and stopping for food, or to take advantage of the state’s absence of sales tax by doing a little school clothes shopping in Missoula. In fact, just this year I made a trip out to Missoula with Marine Band New Orleans as I augmented them for their Spring Tour.  This is actually where my interest in Jon Krakauer’s book took fruition: I remember seeing it on a bookshelf in a store in Missoula, and my interest was all the more piqued when I saw Mark write his review for it earlier this year. Finally, I saw it on the shelf at my own library and thought “why not?”

Jon wrote this book because a long time family friend was raped not by an acquaintance, but somewhere she knew very well. The book begins with the story of Allison Huguet who was born and raised in Missoula. While attending college in Oregon, she came home one weekend and went to a party with childhood friend Beau Donaldson. After some drinking, she passed out on a couch and did not awaken until she realized she was being raped by Donaldson. Thus began a fight that lasted years to bring justice to Donaldson, as well as the emotional trauma that inevitably coincides with such events. Such stories compose much of the book.

Krakauer admits that although the media labeled Missoula as the “rape capital” of the United States, the statistical amount of rape is just under average. But his point is that if it can happen in a small town like Missoula (which boasts a population of just about 70,000), the epidemic of rape in larger towns must be proportionally larger. What is even more disturbing is how often times the odds of taking a rape case to court and winning are extremely unlikely. Krakauer demonstrates that many people believe ridiculous myths about rape and how often times the victim is demonized. This is odd because in most other cases that go to court, the victim is treated like a criminal. In cases of rape, we often blame the clothing women wear, the use of alcohol in conjunction with the incident, and other excuses to place blame on women and let men off the hook for such a heinous crime. Indeed, Krakauer shows how with even the most substantial evidence (rape kits, confessions of rape from the perpetrator, texts messages from victims to friends right after the rape occurred, etc.), women, the victim of the crime, are being blamed instead of our justice system bringing down what should be “just” to the criminal. What is even worse is that rape is oftentimes the worst crime someone can live through; the emotional and sociological trauma that women experience after being raped, like Miss Hugeut, by a longtime friend makes life literally a living nightmare as they try to cope with the ordeal. What is more unbelievable is that throughout the book, the perpetrators are popular football players on the University of Montana team. This created sympathy for them as there was no way their character could be in doubt from what people have seen of them.

So there are a lot of angles to consider. Here are some thoughts that I take away from this book:

1) We live in a fallen world. There is no doubt about this. Often times the defendants gave character witnesses at trials that tried to play them off as generally “nice guys.” What they failed to consider was how it doesn’t matter how “good” a person can be in the public’s eye, there is still sin that lurks beneath all of us. As Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And again “there is none righteous, no not one.” Krakauer brings up the fact that most rapes are seen like a guy in a ski mask, waiting in some bushes outside of a woman’s house ready to pounce. This is largely false. The vast majority of rapes occur between long time friends. We need to come to terms with our fallen nature to understand how such things can even be possible.

2) It seems to me that all the stories Krakauer presents involve two threads that continue to rear their ugly heads: the hook up culture of universities and alcohol. Literally in every case that he outlines, alcohol was involved. Every one. Alcohol is seen as a right of passage on college campuses. I know because I was once in college. I don’t want to use that as an excuse to justify the perpetrator or to suggest that women, if they don’t want to be raped, should not partake in alcohol. But what I am suggesting is that women should use caution and perhaps even should abstain from indulging in alcohol to protect themselves. Fire back if I’m wrong about this, but that just seems logical to me. Second, the hook up culture of universities is one of the most devastating  things to happen to our culture. Casual sex is the norm now and that is unfortunate. From a Christian worldview perspective, sex is for marriage. Now I’m not suggesting that rape cannot happen within the marital covenant, but let’s be honest here: this is considered an epidemic on college campuses. Why is that? Well to me, I think you have to attribute it, in part, to the hookup culture that has festered. That seems logical to me as well. But like I said, fire back if I am mistaken.

3) Seeing how emotional and sociologically devastating rape is to women, I think we, as the church, need to be understanding of how awful rape is and what it can do. There should be unrelenting love poured out and mourning when others are mourning. There should be comfort, counseling, and free from judgement to nourish the well-being of women that have gone through this trauma. Rape inherently targets the most intimate part of humanity and makes it a mockery; the emotional and physical trauma can last for years, perhaps even for a lifetime. We need to take care to bring the vulnerable into the loving arms of Jesus Christ no matter the circumstances.

Some may disagree with me on this last point, but I am a Christian and I believe, without wavering, this is an appropriate response to such things. Lastly, I think this book is educational on how I will talk to my future children about this sensitive issue. The fathers of this book, when they find out their precious daughter had been violated by someone they knew and trusted, is heartbreaking. I hope I never have to experience this kind of pain and likewise, I hope my daughter(s) never have to experience this either. Education is the first step.

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