By Blake Nelson
“Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town” is not an easy book to read, I imagine, for anyone. Jon Krakauer’s nonfiction narrative is harrowing, graphic and hard to stomach at most points, only exacerbated by the reality of the story that unfolds.
That being said, Krakauer’s book is well-researched. Without a doubt, he did his homework. If anyone is familiar with his well-known works, which include “Into the Wild” and “Into Thin Air,” then you know that Krakauer extensively researches for his books. The author’s note at the beginning states that Krakauer not only interviewed almost everyone that he quotes, but he also poured over thousands of court files, laws and academic studies.
The narrative follows the accounts of multiple victims and alleged victims of sexual assault at the University of Montana, involving Missoula, Montana’s mishandling of reported rape cases — a scandal that is just coming to light. Following each person’s accounts of the attack and eventual pursuance of justice, Krakauer weaves a narrative that time and again surprises the reader with harsh realities of a legal system that is biased against the plight of the victim.
Each victim that Krakauer focuses on takes a different path to justice, with differing results. Whether it was through the University of Montana’s disciplinary process or through the legal system, each story highlights the respective process’ faults, which can inadvertently allow a perpetrator of sexual assault to go free.
A case in the book involving a football player and a young woman accusing the football player of committing sexual assault shows the ways that defense attorneys will forgo the truth in order to have their clients acquitted of charges. In this section my blood was boiling as I read how the lawyers for the football player twisted the victim’s words and attacked her character to make her seem untrustworthy and vindictive.
The story that Krakauer tells sheds light on many of the issues in the legal system as well as general misconceptions about victims of rape and what rape actually consists of. Finding the best research on the topics of rape and non-stranger rape, otherwise known as date rape, Krakauer is essentially dispelling any false claims that may surround victims of sexual assault.
Krakauer does point out multiple times that the cases in Missoula are not singular in any way compared with the rest of the country, certainly not the “Rape Capital” it has been perceived as by the media surrounding the controversy. This fact alone gives the story an urgency that comes with the knowledge of a nationwide epidemic. The number of reported rapes from 2008 to 2013 in Missoula was over 80, not differing much from the national average, sadly.
“I don’t mean to single out Missoula: its rape rate is a little less than the national average,” said Krakauer in an interview with NPR. “I think its problems with dealing with rape are pretty depressingly typical.”
This book acts as both a nonfiction narrative and as an investigative piece into the flaws of a justice system that allows 97 percent of accused rapists to walk free. It informs in a clear way and in doing so, opens the eyes of the reader to the injustice within the so-called American justice system.
Blake Nelson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @b_e_nelson.