John Krakauer is an American journalist and nonfiction writer. He was born and educated in Massachusetts and now lives in Colorado. He is an outdoor enthusiast and mountaineer. His best-known works, Into the Wild and Into Thin Air, explore man’s place in nature and the commercialization of potentially deadly natural encounters (like climbing Mount Everest). The city of Missoula is a community on the edge of the Montana wilderness, but Missoula, Krakauer’s eighth book of nonfiction, shifts its focus onto crime, namely rape, and its repercussions in this small college town. In Missoula’s final pages, Krakauer describes how a close family friend was raped by an acquaintance when she was in her mid-teens. Krakauer was unaware that his friend was a rape victim until she was committed to a facility for the treatment of trauma and addiction. His embarrassment that he had been so uninformed about the true face of rape and his ignorance of his friend’s condition, he says, were his initial motivations for writing the book.
In 2010, a private investigation by the University of Montana found that rapes were going unreported at the University. Following this report and a number of high-profile alleged rapes involving members of the University of Montana football team, the U.S. Department of Justice launched its own federal investigation into sexual assault in Missoula. The U.S. Attorney General at the time, Eric Holder, called the allegations that the University of Montana, the Missoula Police Department, and the County Attorney’s Office were failing to address rape “very disturbing.” After the University of Montana’s star quarterback was accused of rape, major media outlets rushed to call Missoula the “Rape Capital” of America. Krakauer’s investigation follows in the wake of this intense scrutiny of rape in Missoula. It aims to show that, in terms of its rape culture, Missoula is unexceptional. This disturbing reality, for Krakauer, means that Americans must work harder to be informed about rape and work to change a culture that unwittingly protects and supports it.
Missoula’s subject matter is appropriate for its time. Rape is of growing concern on university campuses nationwide. As of September 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating over 90 higher education institutions for mishandling or failing to report the rapes of their female students. According to federal authorities, this failure by universities is a violation of Title IX, a piece of legislation that prohibits gender discrimination and requires equal opportunity for women on college campuses. Not just large state schools, but private colleges and Ivy League universities are under federal investigation, showing that the problem is widespread and systemic. In an effort to change rape culture on U.S. college campuses, educators are proposing new models of consent. “No means no” has become the rationale of the past. Now, sexually active partners are encouraged to seek “enthusiastic consent” and always look for active confirmation that their partner is a willing and enthused participant in any sexual activity.