WELL, THAT HAPPENED: Rape and the Weight of Words

By on May 6, 2015

well-that-happenedJackson Hole, Wyoming – I took no pleasure in reading Jon Krakauers new book Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, and its not hard to imagine why. With the subject matter plastered on the cover, the extensive dust jacket description is almost moot. If you pick up Missoula, you know what you’re in for, and you know that Krakauer (author of Into the Wild, Into Thin Air and Under the Banner of Heaven) wont be pulling any punches.

In 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice investigated 350 reported sexual assaults in Missoula, Mont. that took place between January 2008 and May 2012. Many of the victims were students at the University of Montana, as were many of their accusers. Krakauer dives headfirst into a select handful of these cases, masterfully reporting on even the most minute and unpleasant details. Those with a weak heart may choose to scan over the extensive descriptions of the sexual assaults, but to skip over the graphic details seems like an injustice to those affected.

I’ve read a handful of one-star reviews on Amazon and came across people who criticized Krakauer for being biased.

It appears one-sided with an agenda, wrote JP, an Amazon reviewer.

I would wholeheartedly agree.

Krakauer makes his opinions very clear and gives a tremendous amount of weight to the words of the victims. But after reading the many examples of how victims of sexual assault are treated after claiming they’ve been raped, Id say its about time someone made the argument that victims who go to the police should be believed until evidence proves otherwise.

Unfortunately, as Krakauer explains, this is rarely the case.

One Missoula police officer in the book asks a victim named Kelly Barrett if she has a boyfriend. When she responds that she doesn’t and then asks why she was asked, the officer replies, Well, sometimes girls cheat on their boyfriends and regret it, and then claim that they were raped.

Allison Huguet, a Missoula student whose story takes up most of the book, was raped by a boy shed known since childhood. Beau Donaldson took advantage of Allison while she was sleeping, and then proceeded to chase her down an alleyway before she managed to escape in her mothers car. A languid investigation and repeated interrogations followed. Donaldsons friends and family slandered Huguets name throughout town, accusing her of making up the story for attention. In an incredibly powerful scene toward the end of the book, Huguet, on the witness stand, turned to her accused rapist and said: I think … you deserve to be raped every day until you understand the pain you have caused me, until you understand what this does to you emotionally until you get it, Beau, she said. Until you are actually sorry. Until you can take responsibility and get help … And I truly hope that you can come out of this a person of quality, a person of substance. I hope after you are punished, and after you get it, that you have a great life … Until then, I don’t care what happens to you.

Missoula is all at once a harrowing and difficult book to read, certainly in line with Krakauers other investigative narratives. Sexual assault continues to be an issue across the country (in 2014, the Department of Justice estimated that 110,000 women between the ages of 18 and 24 are raped each year). This book is another step in the right direction to increase awareness of this epidemic, and encourage victims to speak out against their attackers.

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