by Jon Krakauer. (Review by Ryan).
I knew that it would be a personal and disturbing experience to read Jon Krakauer’s Missoula, having lived there for almost four years. This point was hammered home on the first page as I read about a person I had personally met (this person was neither victim nor villain). The trend continued as each description of every building on campus, downtown bar, and neighborhood of the town I called my home was described. Described as the scene of a crime. Several crimes actually. In Missoula, Krakauer takes a hard look at how our society and its institutions treat the crime of rape, its victims, and its perpetrators.
If you are like me and have personal, often fond connections to the city of Missoula, Montana, this book can distort your worldview. The first thing to know is that this book is not an attack on Missoula in particular, but rather rape on and around colleges and universities in general. Missoula just served as a profound case study, but as the book points out, Tallahassee, Ann Arbor, Boulder, or even Princeton could have filled the same role. Missoula is not unique in its problems with rapes on college campuses, though that isn’t really a good thing.
Throughout the book, the reader will follow a series of rapes that occurred between 2009 and 2013. All of the victims interviewed for the book are college students, though not necessarily all from the University of Montana. Krakauer lays out the pertinent facts of what happened in each case – reader be warned: these stories told in plain speak are disturbing and upsetting to read – and then proceeds to describe the almost-as-traumatic experience victims face trying to report and find support after their victimization.
Much to the chagrin of many hardcore University of Montana alumni and Grizzly fans, many of the stories in the book involve Grizzly football players (though not all). What becomes extremely disturbing as the stories unfold, is the truly remarkable resources that the community assembles to shield beloved football players from facing the consequences of crimes they commit. For example, legions of character witnesses come out of the woodwork for the Griz athletes, prestigious defense attorneys take on their cases either pro bono or as a result of generous Grizzly boosters. In the most extreme case that made my jaw drop, a Missoula county deputy prosecutor, who was in charge of prosecuting sexual intercourse without consent crimes, not only declined to charge a rape case, but even showed up uninvited to a university disciplinary hearing to testify in defense of the alleged rapist. (This highly inappropriate maneuver didn’t sway the university court, which still expelled the student). After this, she resigned from the county attorney’s office and then joined the legal defense team defending the star quarterback when he was accused of rape. After successfully getting him acquitted of these charges, she leveraged the popularity she gained with jubilant Missoulians, happy to have their Griz back to full strength, elected her to the county attorney position she still holds to this day.
This book is an important read for anyone who can stomach it. While the book is highly disturbing, it is also an uncommonly frank discussion about rape, how victims are treated, and what the lasting effects are on their lives. What is very telling is how many victims end up knowing someone else who was also raped, and finding comfort or advice in their shared pain. This problem is underreported, poorly understood, and generally avoided by most people. Having read this book, I was forced to rethink some of my stereotypes, misconceptions, and straight up ignorances about this crime. I was also forced to try and reconcile my own love for the Montana Grizzlies with the harm their celebrity has done the community. I haven’t watched much Grizzly football since these allegations came down and the coach and athletic director were fired, but now I don’t know if I can ever enjoy Grizzly football the way I did before. This book will challenge you, but you will come out the other side with a broader understanding of a very pressing issue.