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Missoula

  • Study Guide
Main Ideas

Motifs

Main Ideas Motifs
Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.

Media Scrutiny

As an investigative journalist himself, Jon Krakauer pays special attention to the role journalists and the media play in bringing to light the Missoula rape crisis. Krakauer especially praises the articles of journalist Gwen Florio for their role in helping victims to share their stories. Florio’s articles reassure Allison that reporting Beau Donaldson to police was the right thing to do. Krakauer notes that one of the side effects of media scrutiny is that it creates a feeling of panic and frenzy in Missoula, but this unwanted attention also puts pressure on law enforcement and prosecutors to improve the way they respond to rape cases. It is hard to imagine that the U.S. Department of Justice would have launched a federal investigation into the way rape was handled in the town if journalists had not been covering the scandal so attentively. Figures in the book, like Jordan Johnson’s attorney David Paoli, also comment on the media’s scrutiny of rape in the small college town. Paoli argues, however, that the scrutiny creates an unfair environment for the trial of his client. Krakauer and the books victims disagree. They argue that media scrutiny only gives rape victims in Missoula a better chance at receiving justice.

Binge Drinking, Intoxication, and Date Rape Drugs

All of the rapes described in Missoula involve alcohol or drug consumption by one, both, or all involved parties. Beau Donaldson’s father goes so far as to blame Beau’s sexual deviance entirely on alcohol. It is true that drinking and rape often happen in conjunction. When one is intoxicated, asleep, or otherwise impaired, one cannot legally give consent for sexual intercourse. Sometimes would-be rapists use drugs and alcohol as tools to impair their victims before sexually assaulting them. This is sometimes known as “date rape.” Date rapists may use prescription drugs, like Xanax or Klonopin, by slipping them into their target’s drinks or food. Missoula features several date rapists. The Saudi student who flees the United States before police can seize his passport is one notable example, as is Dr. David Lisak’s clinical subject “Frank.” Both Kelsey Belnap and Allison Huguet are encouraged to drink to excess by members of the University of Montana football team before team members rape them. College football culture has strong ties to binge drinking on college campuses. It remains unclear, however, whether changing drinking culture could help to diminish the number of rapes nationwide.

The Definition of Consent

Consent is voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. Without the consent of both parties, any sexual activity between individuals is considered rape. That’s why the legal term for the crime of rape in Montana is “sexual intercourse without consent.” In United States criminal court, prosecutors are often asked to prove that a victim actively withdrew consent by saying “no,” screaming, or otherwise physically resisting her assailant. But the shock of being sexually assaulted often prevents victims from reacting in this way. This is why Jordan Johnson’s defense attorneys, David Paoli and Kristen Pabst, fixate on the definition of consent during Jordan Johnson’s trial. They get academics to admit that consent can be granted with a glance or a nod and insist that medical personnel cannot determine whether or not consent was withdrawn when they collect rape kits. More recently, however, educators are trying to shift the definition of consent to an “affirmative” or “enthusiastic” model. In these models potential sexual partners are taught to rely on the formulation “yes means yes” and to look for signs that their partner is enthusiastically engaged instead of persisting with sexual advances until told to stop.