Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer
FLW Rating: 5/5
A couple months ago, I had a conversation with a coworker about some of our favorite narrative non-fiction authors and Jon Krakauer was at the top of that list. So the next time I found myself in a bookstore, I decided to check out out what books he had written aside from Into Thin Air. I posted a photo of his book Missoula and that photo became my most popular post by far in terms of comments. So many people said that they read it, were so affected by it, and that I should absolutely read it next. I requested it from the library and read it in two days over Christmas break – not exactly cheery Christmas reading, but when the writing is as good as this was, it’s easy to make an exception.
In Missoula, Krakauer tackles the tough issue of rape on a college campus. Most rapes that occur in the US today happen in private homes between acquaintances, making the cases notoriously difficult to prosecute, causing even more trauma for the victim.
Krakauer follows the cases of two women who decide to pursue charges against their alleged rapists. He documents their stories from the first friendly interaction, all the way through the justice system proceedings. For brevity, some sections of the court proceedings were left out, but the latter half of the book feels as though the reader is a fly on the wall in the court room, so crudely exposed to the arguments of both the prosecution and the defense. The language used is blunt because it is factual – no euphemisms are used to soften the blow of accused actions. I think this language and the unrelenting use of it throughout the court proceedings are what cause many readers to cringe and warn others about the challenges associated with reading this book.
However, as Krakauer is so famous for, he masterfully weaves together the experiences of these two women to tell their stories in a way that isn’t dry nor boring. I felt captivated and invested in the outcome of the cases, which kept me flying through the pages the whole time.
Missoula is thoroughly researched and rich in statistics – statistics that I wish more people knew. One of the facts often cited about rape is that 45% of rape accusations are fabricated. Krakauer, through his research, discovered that the two papers which cited for this statistic were debunked soon after publication. The true statistic of false accusations ranges from 2-10%. Similarly, a DOJ study found that 2% of women in America experienced rape, however a more inclusive study conducted by the CDC found that the number is a much more staggering 19.3%. And worst of all, if someone is raped in this country, the rapist has a 90% chance of getting away with no penalty while the victim will suffer from a lifetime of psychological effects.
There are many dimensions of this book worth exploring – from the role of the local prosecutors, to the varying obligations of the prosecution and defense in the court room, to the role of the universities, but it would take too much time to dive in to them here. While these topics may seem very technical, Krakauer makes them a part of the story, so that they are both understandable and interesting to the reader.
I would highly suggest Missoula to another reading looking for a social justice narrative non-fiction read – or really anything to make you feel engaged and fired up.
Have you read it? Let me know below in the comments!