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Missoula

  • Study Guide
Summary

Chapters 31 – 32

Summary Chapters 31 – 32

Summary: Chapter 31

Before filing his lawsuit against the Department of Justice, Fred Van Valkenberg indicates he will not seek re-election for Missoula County Attorney at the end of his term in 2014. Kirsten Pabst, who rarely prosecuted rape and even testified on behalf of alleged rapists like Calvin Smith when she worked for the Missoula County Attorney’s Office, decides to run for Missoula County Attorney. She writes that the office needs “more compassion.” Kirsten Pabst also handled most of the cases detailed in the Department of Justice report. In that report, victims describe being traumatized by their interactions with the attorney’s office. Pabst claims she was trying to improve the office’s response to rape, but she was kept from doing so by the powers that be. Despite his being tried for rape, Jordan Johnson is still a hero in Missoula, and Pabst is popular for her role on Johnson’s defense team. She runs against attorney Josh Van de Wetering, and she wins. After Pabst’s election, Fred Van Valenberg abandons his lawsuit against the Department of Justice.

Summary: Chapter 32

The University of Montana, the Missoula Police Department, and the Missoula County Attorney’s Office are all to blame for the Missoula rape crisis, Krakauer writes. The University of Montana had confusing and contradictory sexual assault policies, but was quickly able to adopt clearer policies and a consistent standard of evidence when expelling rapists. The hardest issue for the university, however, is dealing with the UM football team and the entitlement surrounding its players. The Missoula Police Department failed to give officers up-to-date training, and officers were insensitive to victim reports, but, Krakauer says, the police took steps even before the Department of Justice investigation to improve the way they handled rape accusations. The Missoula County Attorney’s Office is most responsible, according to Krakauer, and deserves the most blame for the crisis. The County Attorney’s Office did not educate prosecutors in non-stranger rape or train them how to successfully convict acquaintance rapists. More importantly, even when police detectives found ample evidence that a rape occurred, the attorney’s office usually did not prosecute the case.

Krakauer argues that the situation requires attention at all levels in order to improve. Police and prosecutors are doing their part by developing a set of best practices to help prosecutors win more rape trials without violating an accused person’s right to due process. Universities should work to standardize their rape response protocols and the way they conduct sexual assault investigations. As it stands, each university handles rape allegations differently. Krakauer ends the book with the story of his friend Laura Summers. A driven and talented woman, Summers was traumatized after being raped by an acquaintance in her youth. She was scarred for life and eventually entered an institution to treat trauma and addiction. Krakauer says he wrote Missoula because he was shocked and embarrassed by his ignorance of the true nature of rape and wanted to do his part to help address the crisis.

Analysis

In Chapter 31, Kirsten Pabst emerges as the true antagonist of Krakauer’s nonfictional story. The federal investigation’s report about the Missoula County Attorney’s Office cites Pabst’s cases and actions as a prosecutor most often.

Krakauer positions her as the figure standing opposite the positive changes he advocates in Missoula. Krakauer reveals Pabst to be a canny politician who only feigns compassion for rape victims. She seems willing to do or say anything for her own personal gain. Despite being more responsible than Fred Van Valkenberg for the failures of the Missoula County Attorney’s Office in prosecuting rape cases, Pabst campaigns for Missoula County Attorney under the promise that she will reform the office and make it more compassionate. Ironically, Pabst gained the public recognition and popularity that allowed her to win her campaign in Missoula by defending an alleged rapist (Jordan Johnson). Unlike Van Valkenberg, Pabst never once appears in Missoula as an advocate for a rape victim or as an activist for victims’ rights.

In Missoula’s final chapter, Krakauer succinctly presents his arguments for the underlying causes of the Missoula rape crisis. The major storylines of the book have been concluded and Krakauer presents his ideas, here, in his own voice. He writes that the University of Montana, the Missoula Police Department, and the Missoula County Attorney’s Office are all to blame, and says definitively and explicitly that he finds the County Attorney’s office the most responsible party. He also suggests that the entertainment of college football is not worth the price of the health and safety of young college-aged women. According to Krakauer, changing the culture around college football and the binge drinking and male entitlement that surrounds it needs to be one of the top priorities of American universities. But rape culture is not only a product of college campuses. Like racism and other forms of prejudice, societal myths about rape continue to survive because of ignorance and subpar education, and, as the various storylines in Missoula indicate, because rapists are not held sufficiently accountable for their actions.