Missoula by Jon Krakauer

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


Missoula
It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering...

Missoula has been on my wishlist ever since it was released early this year. This book isn't a typical Jon Krakauer book - there is no outdoor adventure gone wrong here. Missoula is all about rapes in college campuses. Besides, much of the cast of his other books are predominantly male. This book, however, is filled with mostly women. (I did think that this was an interesting choice of subject for Krakauer, but he explains in the end that someone close to him had been raped in college, resulting in her adopting several destructive coping mechanisms, such as heavy alcohol consumption and promiscuity.)

Missoula is a typical college town - much of its population is directly or indirectly associated with the University of Montana and the town residents mostly worship its football team - the Grizzlies. So when girls get raped by football players, they get booed into a corner. Most people prefer blaming the rape on the girl, on the few or many drinks she had had, and on her previous (sometimes) romantic interest in the player.

In this book, Jon Krakauer follows the rape and attempted rape allegations made by four or five girls. One of them was raped by her childhood friend as she slept in the couch in his house. Another was raped by her friend of a few years when they sat in her room watching TV. Yet a third was gang-raped by four men after she had passed out from drinking too much. All of these sexual assaults were made by aquaintances, and as Krakauer explains it, aquaintance rape is not well-handled by the attorneys or the public. Most people imagine a gun-wielding stranger in the bushes when they think of rapists. They don't necessarily think of a smiling successful football player who is the toast of the town. When it comes to aquaintance rape, people like to blame the victim because according to them, she must have expressed interest in the man, and not conveyed her lack of consent adequately.

I must have shed way too many tears and cursed way too much listening to this book. It is always disturbing when a criminal goes scot-free. It is even worse when much of the town doesn't view that person as a criminal. To be fair, all but one of the rapes in this book didn't have eyewitnesses, so it's one person's account versus another's. However, most of the victims have suffered physical injuries that clearly indicate something traumatic. Very often, the police and sometimes, the jury give little, if any significance to those injuries. Of course, some of the rapes could be false complaints, but Krakauer quotes studies that have shown that only a tiny minority of rapes are actually false rapes.

Growing up, my parents must have told me countless times not to interact with strangers and not to be alone in a public place especially at nights. I am sure this kind of warning will always be passed on from parents to their children. However, that is not going to give an iota of benefit when it comes to aquaintance rape, because most of these victims know their attacker. What's worse? At least in the US, aquaintance rape is far more common than stranger-rapes. They will also not reduce in frequency for as long as the authorities don't take it seriously. It is way too easy to blame the victim, as many have done in this book - She drank too much, She has a crush on him, She didn't say no, She didn't say no clearly or loudly, He was drunk so he had trouble registering the withdrawal of the consent.

This is a book I think all present and would-be college students should read. Yes, the subject matter is tough, and yes, it will likely make a girl overly cautious and suspicious of everyone. But boys can learn stuff too from this book. And from most preventive measures that people share, bringing up boys to better respect women is sorely missing. One of the most surprising things I learned from Missoula is that most of the rapists had no idea that they were raping. They had varying reactions such as Consent once given is consent forever, or I am a football player and any girl will want to sleep with me, or She was flirting with me, or I am entitled to this. There is a lot of education missing right there. (A lot of past rape literature has focused a lot on what victims can do to avoid rapes while still insisting that the victim is not to blame. More recently however, I am beginning to see articles that focus on educating the would-be perpetrator as well and that's a good trend.)

I would strongly recommend this book, whether you have kids in the right demographic or whether you are a person in the right demographic as this book's victims and perpetrators. It may be a hard one to read but there is a lot to learn here about consent and rape consequences.


This audiobook is from my personal library.

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