The fact that the police officer handling Belnap’s report is uncomfortable and shaky when asking her questions and gathering evidence suggests that members of the police department have not received adequate training to support rape victims immediately following an attack. The behavior of Detectives Blood and Baker is even more shocking. When police officers are skeptical of the reports of rape victims, it discourages them from coming forward and seeking justice. But, as Allison’s story shows, suffering in silence can exacerbate the trauma of being raped and cause victims to feel they have no outlet for their pain. The detectives’ attitude that Belnap is “just another drunk girl,” their questions about Belnap’s boyfriend, and the decision they seem to reach that she feels regret for cheating on her boyfriend all suggest that they believe common societal myths about rape. Detective Baker is a complex figure. He behaves with tact when responding to Allison and works as an advocate for Allison throughout her case. And by doing strong detective work and securing a warrant to tape-record Beau’s confession, Detective Baker ensures that there is enough evidence for Allison’s case to be prosecuted. With Belnap, however, Detective Baker explains away rape with stereotypes, and, like Detective Blood, seems more like a victim-blaming football fan than a committed police detective.
The title of Part Two, “Before the Law Sits a Gatekeeper,” hints at the role law enforcement and legal prosecutors play in keeping rapes from coming to the light of day. Because of insufficient training or a lack of awareness about the repercussions acquaintance rape has on its victims, law enforcement officers often consciously or unconsciously prevent rape victims from seeking justice against their rapists. As a result, rapists are seldom punished according to the letter of the law. Kerry Barrett’s is the fourth sexual assault described in detail in Missoula, and police actions prevent her from seeking justice. Like Allison and Keely Williams, Barrett awakes in the middle of the night to find her attacker has been sexually assaulting her while she was unconscious. The police officer that interviews Barrett at the police station either does not take Barrett’s claim seriously or does not understand the gravity of sexual assault.
When Detective Merifield later interviews Zeke Adams, she lacks professional objectivity. Barrett has reported that Adams pulled her pants down and was rubbing his penis against her. Adams says he never did this. Instead of questioning Adams on the discrepancies between his and Barrett’s stories or forcefully interrogating him, Detective Merifield uses the interview to sympathize with Adams. She reassures him that he has nothing to worry about and that the case will never be prosecuted, but her job is still to be collecting evidence and to work toward getting a confession or other corroboration for Barrett’s account. Barrett’s experience of trauma and anxiety do not end when Detective Merifield decides not to prosecute Barrett’s case. The assault affects Barrett for years. Krakauer turns to academic research to generalize Barrett’s experience and show that victim behavior is often counterintuitive. One might assume a victim of sexual assault would avoid all sexual encounters after being assaulted, but research shows victims are just as likely to reenact their trauma. This is yet another way that sexual assault can harm its victims long after it has taken place.