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The first witness to take the stand in Jordon Johnson’s rape trial is Cecilia Washburn. She spends a day on the stand, describing the rape to one of the prosecution’s attorneys, Joel Thompson. Then, Johnson’s attorney, David Paoli, cross-examines her. He asks her if she says she wanted Johnson to suffer. (She had said in a previous statement that she did.) Paoli tries to paint her as an emotionally unstable and vindictive woman. Through Paoli’s questioning, it emerges that Washburn had a dream in 2011 about a University of Montana football player raping her. The player, Paoli says, was drafted into the NFL. What he doesn’t mention is that the player was also on trial for criminal violence and Washburn’s boyfriend’s roommate. Paoli points out that Washburn’s roommate, Stephen Green, said in a statement that between being raped and driving Johnson home, Washburn ate a snack. Washburn denies this. Next, Paoli questions Washburn’s claim that she made it explicitly clear to Johnson that she didn’t want to have sex. He brings up messages Washburn sent to friends after being raped in which she blames herself for what happened.
Paoli finishes his cross-examination, and Joel Thompson questions Washburn again. He asks her what the purpose of her messaging friends about the rape was. She says to share her “crazy thoughts.” In response to Thompson’s questioning, Washburn testifies that, yes, she could have been clearer with Johnson or clawed out his eyes, but that she did make it clear enough that she did not give consent. She does not plan to profit from her allegation in any way, she testifies. She only wants justice.
The prosecution calls its second witness, Dr. David Lisak, to give educational testimony. Joel Thompson asks Dr. Lisak about common misconceptions about rape. People think of men in masks with knives hiding in bushes, Dr. Lisak says, but the vast majority of rapes, over ninety percent, occur between non-strangers. The trauma of being raped by an acquaintance is no less severe than the trauma of being raped by a stranger. Dr. Lisak testifies that people like to think they would be able to recognize the type of person who might be a rapist, but that they can’t. A rapist may even seem timid. People tend to imagine that a woman being raped would do anything in her power to avoid being raped, but most often women do not resist. Their fear is overwhelming. Sometimes they are afraid that, if they resist, they will be hurt even worse. After being raped, victims are often confused about what has happened to them, and sometimes blame themselves. Thompson concludes his examination.
Next, Kirsten Pabst cross-examines Dr. Lisak. She describes him as “an erstwhile professor from Massachusetts,” who testifies for rape victims for money. She implies that, because he was sexually abused as a child, he is biased toward victims. Dr. Lisak acknowledges that awkward or disappointing sex is not necessarily rape, and that, depending on a relationship, just a smile can constitute consent. Pabst asks if it is possible that Washburn had made a false report, and Dr. Lisak replies that anything is possible.
Throughout Missoula, Krakauer gives examples of prosecutors who tell rape victims that they will be torn apart if they testify in court. Rape victims shouldn’t take their cases to trial, these prosecutors argue, because being cross-examined would be too emotionally harrowing. In Chapter 23, Paoli badgers Washburn and attempts to paint her behavior in an unflattering light, but the reader sees that the threat of cross-examination isn’t all it has been cracked up to be. Washburn is not fazed by Paoli’s theater. She calmly addresses his questions. Paoli argues that Washburn’s dream indicates a fantastic delusion, a desire to leech off famous football players’ careers. Krakauer shows that, given the famous football player’s proximity to Washburn, his history of violent behavior, and the general history of violent sexual assaults by members of the University of Montana football team, Washburn’s fears are perfectly rational. Paoli tries to demonstrate that Washburn’s behavior is inconsistent with her story of being raped, but Krakauer implies that her behavior is only inconsistent with the way victims are supposed to behave according to societal rape myths.
Next Krakuer shows how prosecutor Joel Thompson must play into Paoli’s theater and address his arguments as if they were legitimate. First, Thompson reminds the jury of the purpose behind some of the messages Washburn sent to friends in the days following her rape. They were meant to express her “crazy thoughts,” thoughts she didn’t necessarily think were true, but which, due to her anxiety and trauma, she couldn’t avoid having. Krakauer has consistently shown the reader, through the stories he tells and by turning to academic research, that victims of rape often try to explain away their rape or blame themselves for its occurrence. Thompson agrees with Paoli that there are many hypothetical things a victim can do to withdraw consent. When he says that a victim might scream or try to claw out her attacker’s eyes, however, he reminds the jury that a victim doesn’t need to do everything or anything imaginable. Simply saying no is enough. Finally, Thompson dismisses the idea Paoli tries to plant in the jury that Washburn is seeking to profit financially from her accusations against Johnson. The idea is entirely unfounded.
Long before Dr. David Lisak appears as a character in one of Missoula’s main storylines, Krakauer presents the reader with Dr. Lisak’s research and statistics. Because of Krakauer’s planning, Lisak appears before the reader on the witness stand as a familiar name from sexual assault scholarship rather than as an anonymous expert. The prosecution hopes that Lisak’s testimony can undermine the deliberate mis-education being exercised by the defense. Prosecutors want to make sure jury members understand the true facts of acquaintance rape. By this point in Missoula, most of Dr. Lisak’s testimony is a repetition of information that Krakauer has already presented to the reader. Washburn’s story, according to Lisak’s testimony, isn’t an absurd fantasy. Instead, her being raped by an acquaintance is typical of most rapes. Because the defense team cannot discredit the accuracy of Dr. Lisak’s research, they try to attack him personally and question his motives for testifying. Kirsten Pabst implies Lisak is after money. Because Pabst can’t refute his research, she also argues that ignorance is better than education. She portrays Dr. Lisak as an outsider who comes from the East Coast to tell honest Missoulians how to think and act.