This column ran in the Chapel Hill Herald on May 23, 2015
Scott Brick reads Jon Krakauer’s introductory author’s note for Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town (Random House, approx.. 12 hours).
He begins in straight-forward tones with startling statistics about rape, ending with one that most impacts the book — the Department of Justice’s report of 350 sexual assaults recorded by the Missoula police between January 2008 and May 2012.
Brick’s timbre grows more heartfelt as he states Krakauer’s goals to understand what keeps so many rape victims from going to the police and to comprehend the ramifications of acquaintance rape for those who have been victimized.
For his book, Krakauer interviewed victims and perpetrators, spoke to experts, read thousands of pages of court documents, police reports, and reviewed studies revealing this most common (and unacknowledged) form of rape. The forward ends with a warning — “parts of book may be hard to hear.” Take this warning seriously for the honesty of the victims is searing and Krakauer’s detailing is graphic and intense.
Mozhan Marno reads most of the book, holding her emotions in check, maintaining a narrative neutrality for the most part. She clearly differentiates the victims, the perpetrators and the key players in all their individual stories. Periodically she captures moods — the sneer of a defense attorney, or the disgust and fear of victims.
Krakauer relates and follows the stories of several victims, homing in on that of Allison Huguet, who was raped by Beau Donaldson, a childhood friend. After drinking too much at a party, Huguet went to sleep on a couch, fully dressed and alone. She woke with her pants pulled down, to the sound of Donaldson’s moaning and a great deal of pressure. She feigned sleep, afraid that Donaldson, a linebacker for the Grizz (the University of Montana’s Grizzlies), who outweighed her by 100 pounds, “could have snapped my neck like a twig.”
She flees, pursued by Donaldson, is rescued by her mother and immediately agrees to a physical exam. In the rape crisis center, she feels “for the next four hours I was essentially raped all over again.” As Krakauer painfully relates, “her most private recesses are “probed, combed, swabbed, photographed, and intensely scrutinized by strangers.”
Then she meets her father at a Grizz football game and tells him nothing. Tells him nothing for years.
Huguet suffers other less physical assaults — taunts and rumors generated largely by Donaldson and his friends, and perhaps even more cruel, the horrors of the court system.
Donaldson is finally found guilty and faces two years of prison time. And then, months later, Huguet faces a final indignity when Donaldson’s attorneys ask for “less excessive” charges. Huguet is furious and eloquent, “I don’t get to go to a review board and ask them to reduce the pain I feel daily or take away the flashback, nightmares, or anxiety. Or restore my sense of safety, or security, or trust in people … the only thing that is excessive in this case is the amount of suffering he’s caused.”
Krakauer’s views on the subject go wide and deep. He discusses the gaming of the court system, the victims’ confusing short and then long term repercussions, the ineffectiveness of college administrations, and views by an expert who has interviewed undetected rapists. But Krakauer’s greatest feat is candidly and respectfully voicing the experiences of victims who are typically unheard.