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Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town

Why don’t we believe women?

And that question isn’t directed at just men.

Why is it that when women, especially college-age women, say they’ve been raped, there are many who want to push their claims to the side?

Is it because recent media (movies, TV, and books) have painted a picture that girls report false claims all the time? Interesting that I’ve seen this argument made multiple times on TV, but in reality only 2% to 10% of rape claims are false.

The majority of claims are valid and true, yet victims are treated like the stats are flipped.

Is it because we subconsciously tell women that they are accountable when a man lacks self-control? You shouldn’t wear that, act like that, drink that, or hint in any way. You asked for it.

‘Boys will be boys’.

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Jon Krakauer, author of Missoula, is up front in the preface that the book’s object is purposefully narrow. Like many, the small college town of Missoula, home of the University of Montana, grabbed his attention in 2012 when both the university and the DOJ ran separate investigations. Both focused on sexual assault, and the results were not good.

UM’s investigation, by the Honorable Diane Barz, identified nine sexual assaults by UM students between September 2010 to December 2011. Barz warned that ‘immediate action’ was required.

The DOJ’s findings were even worse as eighty alleged rapes were reported in the last three years in Missoula (and that’s with 80% of sexual assaults NOT being reported).

As shocking as these findings were, they were also “on par with national averages for college towns of Missoula’s size” (pg.10)

On par?! What the hell is happening in college towns where these numbers are the norm?

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To Krakauer, Missoula was the perfect case study to understand what is happening at Universities in America. How do the Universities, police departments, and prosecution offices work together to handle these cases? How do they treat the accused and the victim?

Missoula gives a voice to a handful of women who were violently sexually assaulted between 2010 to 2012 at UM. While Krakauer tries to be as clinical as possible, this book is still brutal.

Not just because of the hell these women endured, but the hell they have to walk through afterwards.

Krakuaer focuses on five cases in Missoula, but the main story throughout is of Allison Huguet. Huguet was a UM junior that was raped by her childhood best friend and Grizzlies football player, Beau Donaldson. After growing frustrations with how her case was being handled, she came out publicly to discuss the issue.

The floodgates were thus opened and shit hit the fan for UM and Missoula.

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Clockwise from top left: Kelsey Belnap (gang rape by four Grizzlies players); Allison Huguet; Hilary McLaughlin (sexually assaulted by Donaldson)

    Donaldson wasn’t the only Grizzly player that was accused; others , including that quarterback, were as well. The amount of sexual violence amongst the Grizzlies wasn’t the only sign that something was rotten at the core with this team.

Along with the rape accusations, multiple convictions of violence, including brutal beatings and homicide, were highlights on the Grizzlies’ laundry list.

These were the men that were put on pedestals and protected.

Guess what? Americans don’t seem to care as long as you’re winning games and championships. Think I’m harsh?  I think Huguet would agree, since she received a tidal wave of hate even after Donaldson confessed.

That’s right, many Grizzlies fans were still on the rapist’s side even after he confessed.

Why? Because the Grizzlies team needed him and she was just ruining a good boy’s future (In case you don’t know what sarcasm is, that was it).

And in case anyone is getting upset, no, I don’t think all college football players are like this team. This is on the extreme end (oh God, I hope so). I feel like this Grizzlies team was a wake up call to how we put professional/college athletes on a pedestal.

And many pay the price.

The sad part is that what I described is only a small measure of how these women were failed by the system.
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I believe Krakauer also does a great job remaining objective, even though it’s hard. He doesn’t paint government workers as villains, but rather as a part of a system that is systematically failing these victims.

But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t call people out on their bullshit, especially a particular prosecutor that seemed to be more concerned with the accused than the victims, when her job was to represent those women.

cough,cough,Pabst,cough,cough

Along with the narrative, Krakauer sought information from David Lisak, a clinical psychologist who is one of the nation’s experts on rape and its traumatic aftereffects.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I had clung on to old myths about how victims react. There were many questions I had about how women actually respond,  both during the horrible act and after.  Lisak was a strong addition to Missoula as he gave much needed insight into the victim’s mind.

And I could give you all the answers here, but I’m not. This book is too important. Everyone should read this book, no matter how hard the subject matter is, because these women deserve it.

They deserve your attention and your understanding. They need people to rally around them instead of pushing their traumatic experiences aside, like they’re nothing.

Score: 10/10

“I don’t mean to single out Missoula: Its rape rate is a little less than the national average; I think its problems with dealing with rape are pretty depressingly typical.”

                           -Jon Krakauer in a interview with NPR

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4 thoughts on “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town

  1. This was a disturbing and eye-opening read. Most memorable to me was the point that there’s so much concern about ruining the lives of the accused men, but so little about the ruined lives of the raped women, who have been traumatized both by a violent act and by the treatment they receive afterwards.

    Liked by 1 person

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