Thursday, December 31, 2015

Missoula

That college campus rapes are common in this country will surprise no one.  It only makes sense that this would be the case anywhere that so many young people are experiencing sudden personal freedom in an atmosphere chiefly characterized by easy access to alcohol and drugs.  What is shocking and surprising is just how poorly local and campus authorities handle reported assaults.

John Krakauer's Missoula, via a detailed look at the university town of Missoula, Montana, vividly illustrates just how difficult it is for rape victims to get justice in America's courts - especially if their abusers happen to be college athletes of local or national renown.   Missoula, home of the University of Montana, typifies the problem rape victims are likely to encounter in too many college towns across the country, and what Krakauer learned in his investigation of the city is important.  And sadly, what the author found explains why such a low percentage of rape victims even bother to report the assaults they suffer.

There is plenty of blame to go around for this chosen silence, some of it even accruing to the rape victims.  It is all too common that the victim of rape is under the influence of drugs or alcohol to the extent that memory of the rape is clouded and almost dreamlike.  Such victims are often not certain that they do not share some responsibility for the rape, and because the majority of rapes can be characterized as "acquaintance rapes," victims are reluctant to go public with the crime.  They may have known their rapists for years and now find it difficult to ruin the lives of someone they had considered a friend, someone they trusted to protect them, not do the opposite.

Missoula explores the specific cases of several women in that city, women who had the courage to bring charges against those who stole forever their sense of security and confidence in their surroundings.  All of the women whose cases are highlighted struggled with the decision to go public with what happened to them.  In most cases, they hid the truth from their parents and boyfriends as long as they could, and it was only when the psychological damage they suffered became obvious to others that they spoke of what happened to them.  And that is when their problems grew worse.

That is when the women had to deal with Missoula prosecutors who refused to bring a rapist to court unless they believed there was absolutely no way to lose the case.  The Missoula County Attorney's Office, as led by Kirsten Pabst and Fred Van Valkenburg, refused to file charges in the vast majority of rape cases presented to it by the Missoula Police Department for consideration.  Pabst, in particular, seems to have disregarded evidence that indicated a high chance that a crime had occurred because she was more concerned about keeping her personal Win-Loss record as near hundred percent as possible. 

Author Jon Krakauer
Even worse, the women, if those who raped them were University of Montana football players, faced the wrath of the local community.  How dare these women cause the record of the football team to be less than it would have been were the criminals who raped them allowed to remain on the playing field?  The victims were personally shunned and humiliated in public to a disgraceful degree intended to destroy them and to protect the men who raped them. 

Almost unbelievably, many of the people responsible for the horrible miscarriages of justice detailed by Krakauer are still in place in Missoula.  Some, particularly Kirsten Pabst, have actually benefitted from their abuse of the public's trust in them.  Pabst's behavior is so reprehensible and damning that she actively tried to keep Missoula from being published in April of 2015.  Her behavior, however, so greatly benefitted the football fans of Missoula, Montana, that voters there rewarded her with a more powerful position than the one she held at the time of the Department of Justice investigation that condemned her handling of rape investigations.


Missoula exposes the ugly truths about college campus rape.  But the book is also a disgusting reminder of how so many are willing to reward criminal behavior if looking the other way results in more wins for the local college football team -rape victim be damned.

2 comments:

  1. I really like Jon Krakauer's writing though it has been ages since I have read any of his books--must pick this one up. Did you see the movie Meru about the climbers who wanted to summit it? Krakauer was one of the people interviewed (it was a stunning documentary). Happy New Year Sam--all the very best to you in 2016 and I hope it is filled with lots of good reading!

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  2. I haven't seen that documentary, Danielle, so thanks for the heads-up; I'll look for it. Krakauer has been one of my go-to nonfiction authors for a while now, and I always take a look at his new work to see if the topic appeals to me. Happy New Year to you guys, too...here's to another good year!

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