Review of Missoula: Rape and the justice system in a college town By John Krakauer
As the subtitle suggests, this book is about rape on college campuses, specifically the University of Montana. Krakauer focuses on this particular college because of a rash of incidents that occurred over a short period of time, but the stories told here could apply to just about any college campus.
The book does not cover one specific incident but instead covers several incidents with different outcomes for both the victims and perpetrators. As such, this is not a story with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Instead it is an examination of how acquaintance rape happens and how the justice system handles, or often doesn’t handle, these cases.
Everyone will agree that if a man drugs a woman and then takes advantage of that woman whose judgment is impaired or who might even be unconscious, that is as bad and wrong as a random stranger on stranger rape. There are many men spending decades behind bars for the types of rapes that Bill Cosby is accused of committing. Things get a little more difficult when a rape occurs between two people who know each other, especially when the rape is preceded by consensual foreplay.
Krakauer does a good job of not taking sides. He tells the reader what happened that led to the rape, and then what happened after. He also covers the topic of false rape accusations. According to Krakauer, incidents involving false accusations are the exception and not the rule. Krakauer doesn’t hold back in his disdain for detectives and prosecutors who fail to take the women seriously and fail to press charges, especially when the accused perpetrator is a college football player.
The majority of the cases covered in the book are not clear cut. One case in particular concerning a star quarterback was especially hard to call. It starts with a whisper in the ear of the quarterback from the alleged victim, “I’ll do you anytime.” That is followed with an invitation to watch movies. Alone in the bedroom the two start making out. When things get a little too hot the woman says that she does not want to have sex. What happens next depends on whose story you believe. This one story plays out all the way through a trial, with the quarterback’s future in the balance.
This book covers an important topic. A number of very successful and famous sports figures have come very close to having their lives turned upside down as a result of rape allegations: Ben Roethlisberger and Jameis Winston to name just two. When it comes to acquaintance rape on college campus, those who are charged and convicted face a downhill spiral that may be hard to overcome. After serving lengthy sentences, these men still pay a stiff penalty as registered sex offenders.
I understand that consensual sex can be withdrawn at anytime. I get it that when a woman says no that means no know matter how far along things have progressed. But I don’t agree that someone’s life should be ruined because of what might have been a misunderstanding. One case mentioned in the book involved a boy who was a virgin. His only knowledge of sex came from watching porn. He penetrated a friend with his fingers while she was sleeping. He was accused of rape. Should he be treated the same as someone who is a predator and a repeat offender? Should there be a penalty? Yes. Should that penalty be equivalent to someone who is a serial criminal? I don’t think so.