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Part One of the book, “Allison,” begins in the middle of the story, in January of 2012. Two Missoula police detectives arrive at a small office products company during a Hawaiian-themed Christmas party. A lot of people at the party notice their car drive up. Detective Guy Baker asks the business owner, Kevin Huguet, to speak with Huguet’s daughter, Allison. She and Detective Baker walk into the parking lot to speak privately. Detective Baker tells her that he has arrested her rapist, Beau Donaldson, with a full confession. At the door with the other detective, Kevin does not know what is going on. He demands to know why the police have come to speak to his daughter. For the first time since it happened in September 2010, Allison tells her father that Beau Donaldson raped her. Kevin is outraged. Beau Donaldson is a football player at the University of Montana, and Allison had a long, sibling-like friendship with him. It is not uncommon for rape victims to suffer in relative silence, Krakauer writes. In fact, only six to twelve percent of rapes are reported to the police.
Krakauer then gives some key background information on the book’s setting. Montana is geographically large state with few people. Missoula, with seventy thousand residents, is its second largest city. The population is ninety-two percent white, and the largest employer is the University of Montana. The most important thing contributing to Missoula’s culture is University of Montana football. The beloved UM Grizzlies have an outstanding record in their smaller Division 1 conference, the Big Sky, and fans call themselves the “Griz Nation.” But a variety of sexual assaults by football players, including an alleged gang rape in 2010, causes some Missoulians to start questioning the football team and the university. An independent investigation by the university in January 2012 finds that the university vastly underreported acts of sexual violence. Three months later, the U.S. Department of Justice announces it is conducting its own investigation into the epidemic of sexual assaults in Missoula. The media rushes to call Missoula the “Rape Capital” of America. Krakauer, however, determines that rape figures in Missoula are slightly below the national average for cities Missoula’s size.
Chapter 2 gives Allison Huguet and Beau Donaldson’s background and details what happens the night Allison is raped. Allison and Beau were friends for twelve years and went to high school together. They were never romantically involved. They see each other like brother and sister. Allison is a student on a track and field scholarship at Eastern Oregon University. The night she is raped in September of 2010, she is back home in Montana on break. She decides to attend a party with an old high school friend, Keely Williams, at Beau Donaldson’s house. At the party, the girls see some of their old friends playing beer pong and having fun, and they get drunk. Beau is at the party pounding beers and other alcoholic beverages. When it gets late, close to 2 A.M., Beau’s roommate suggests the girls stay and sleep on the couch, saying that he doesn’t want them to drive drunk. Keely finds an empty bedroom with an empty bed and invites Allison to sleep in it with her, but Allison instead passes out on the couch fully clothed around 2 A.M.
Allison wakes up about two hours later, lying facedown. Her jeans and underwear have been pulled down and Beau is penetrating her with his penis. She pretends to be asleep, afraid Beau, a 240-pound man, might hurt her if she resists. After Beau ejaculates inside her, tugs up her jeans, and leaves, Allison grabs her things and runs out of the house. She calls her boyfriend in Colorado. When he doesn’t answer, she calls her mother, Beth. Just as Beth answers the phone Beau starts chasing Allison. She screams to her mother that Beau is chasing her, that he raped her. She hits Beau as she runs. Beth gets into the car to come find her. Beau eventually stops pursuing Allison, and Beth finds Allison and picks her up. Allison remembers that Keely is still in the house and they go back to get her. When Allison and Keely recall the events to Krakauer later, Keely says she wishes that she had made Allison come sleep in the bedroom with her. Allison reminds Keely that neither of them had any reason to think that they were in danger.
Missoula is a work of nonfiction investigative journalism. It includes a wide array of facts, witness reports, interviews, legal cases, and academic opinion concerning rape. In order to organize the information, Krakauer presents it within a few main stories or narratives about particular rapes. Beau Donaldson’s raping Allison Huguet, the rape’s investigation by Missoula law enforcement, its prosecution by the district attorney’s office, and the other sprawling consequences of the rape in the community are the main components of the book’s central story. By beginning the book in the middle of that story, with a description of Detective Baker telling Allison about Beau’s arrest, Krakauer gives the reader a sense of where the book is going. The reader knows immediately that Beau is guilty of rape and has confessed his guilt. But Krakauer leaves one important question unanswered: how will Beau be punished for his crime, or will he be punished at all?
Krauker goes to great lengths to describes what Missoula is like as a city for three main reasons. First, it is the setting in which the various narratives of the story are going to unfold. Many of the stories involve football players, so it is important for the reader to understand how highly respected college football is within that setting and how that might enable football players to get away with serious crimes. Second, the scrutiny Missoula receives from the U.S. Department of Justice for its lack of response to reported rapes, in addition to the city’s label from major newspapers and media outlets as the “Rape Capital” of America, seems to justify a journalistic examination of rape there in particular. And, finally, contrary to what this attention from media outlets suggests, Missoula is not unique. It is a good example to apply to most small cities in the country, especially those with major universities. Telling the story of Missoula might help to address the problem of rape nationwide.
One of the reasons to pay more attention to rape, the book argues, is that it can happen to and be committed by anybody. Allison and Beau are high-achieving members of their community and well-regarded college athletes. Beau, however, is perhaps more privileged and protected than Allison. He is, after all, a player on the UM football team. The circumstances of Beau and Allison’s lives are commonplace. They attend public high school and are relatively good students. The parties they attend are like average American college parties.
The book aims to dispel common misconceptions we have about rape being committed by masked men in alleys. It argues that the scope of the problem of rape has been misrepresented and poorly reported. Krakauer contends that Americans should be more attentive to rape’s widespread repercussions in society. Rape is more often perpetrated by acquaintances than by strangers. Allison and Beau are even more than acquaintances. They are old friends. This fact about rape is part of what makes it so traumatic for its victims. And, because of that trauma, those victims sometimes respond to it in ways that don’t seem logical. Among the many consequences of rape, Missoula also explores the sensitivity or lack of sensitivity for victims in the law and legal systems. For example, did Detective Baker realize that by coming to Allison’s father’s office Christmas party, he would expose her in front of her father and his employees?
When it comes to the night of the rape, the language Krakauer uses is direct and factual. This gives the events clarity and certainty, and it keeps the reader from rationalizing or explaining away acquaintance rape. Events are presented as distinct realities, not gray or confused circumstances. During her rape, Allison doesn’t respond in any of the ways societal myths about rape suggest that she would. She doesn’t scream, physically resist, or immediately call for help. After the rape, she calls her boyfriend. Her first concern is to seek emotional support, not punishment for her attacker. This kind of emotional reaction makes sense given her shock and fear. Rape is often unreported because victims feel or are made to feel that they are in some way responsible for what happens to them. Even Keely feels guilty for not doing more to protect her friend even though, as Allison points out, they had no reason to suspect what would happen. They trusted their friends completely.