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Missoula

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Further Study

Study Questions

Further Study Study Questions

What causes the Missoula rape crisis and who, if anyone, is most responsible?

The Missoula rape crisis is a complex phenomenon triggered by a variety of events. In some respects, it makes most sense to blame the young men in Missoula who committed rape for causing the crisis. But Missoula, as Krakauer writes, actually has fewer rapes each year than the national average for cities of its size. The crisis, then, is larger than the individual rapists and their victims. It is caused in some measure by the culture of privilege surrounding the University of Montana football team. Football players are allowed and sometimes even encouraged to behave recklessly and, when they get in trouble with the law, they are seldom held accountable for their actions. The crisis is also, according to Krakauer, a media creation to some extent. Increasing media scrutiny on the small college town, in part because of the high profile of some of the alleged rapists, turned Missoula into the “rape capital” of America. But, in Krakauer’s view, media scrutiny was a positive force in Missoula. It allowed more victims to be heard and forced citizens to recognize the problem in their town.

The crisis can also be seen as a result of the failure of the institutions responsible for preventing rapes and protecting victims: the University of Montana, the Missoula Police Department, and the Missoula County Attorney’s Office. Krakauer says that the University and the Missoula Police are both somewhat to blame. The University promotes the college football culture that allows football players to act with impunity. The Missoula Police did a poor job of training its officers on how to investigate acquaintance rape and communicate with rape victims. But the Missoula County Attorney’s Office, in Krakauer’s opinion, deserves most of the blame. By failing to prosecute rapists or provide training to prosecutors on how to affectively prosecute rape, and by refusing to communicate with police about putting together stronger rape cases, the County Attorney’s Office practically ensured that few rapists would be brought to justice.

What are the two main narratives in Missoula and what is the significance of dividing the story in half?

The two main stories Krakauer develops in Missoula are centered on Beau Donaldson’s raping Allison Huguet and Jordan Johnson’s raping Cecilia Washburn. The stories, really, are about the aftermath of these rapes. Krakauer focuses on giving voice to rape victims, and rape is only the beginning of a victim’s story. Krakauer shows how Allison tries for months to avoid reporting Beau. Once she finally makes the decision to turn him in, her story progresses through Detective Baker’s investigation, Beau’s arrest, Allison’s struggle to get a sufficiently harsh sentence from the Missoula County Attorney’s Office, and, ultimately, Beau’s conviction. When it comes to telling Cecilia Washburn and Jordan Johnson’s story, Krakauer focuses on the details of Johnson’s acquittals, Krakauer describes how Johnson avoids being expelled from the University of Montana, and, later, Johnson’s acquittal in criminal court.

One reason to divide the reader’s attention between these two stories is that one, Washburn’s, shows a typically unsuccessful trial prosecution and the other, Allison’s, shows a rare, successful prosecution resulting in her rapist’s conviction. With the narrative of Johnson’s trial, Krakauer is able to illustrate how damaging and difficult a jury trial can be for a rape victim. He also shows the various methods defense lawyers use to secure acquittals for their clients. Though Allison’s story ends in her rapist’s conviction, the trauma of her rape is not diminished. Allison struggles for years with both the psychological consequences of her rape and the difficult of working with prosecutors in her case. Even though the state wins the maximum conviction, Allison feels that a likely term of just two and a half years is insufficient retribution for the pain she has suffered.

What are the main reasons rape victims have such a hard time getting justice and what does Jon Krakauer suggest should be done to change the system?

Krakauer details two kinds of problems that keep rape victims from getting justice, one cultural and the other procedural. The cultural problem is that, as a society, we largely believe incorrect rape myths. These myths suggest that rape occurs between strangers, that people like star university quarterbacks would never commit rape, and that victims always react to being raped by screaming and fighting their attackers. As Krakauer shows in Missoula, the overwhelming majority of rapes occur between friends and acquaintances. Though these cultural problems are easy to identify, they can take generations to resolve. The procedural problems are more complicated, and are probably also a result of cultural misconceptions about rape. Universities have done a poor job reporting rapes to law enforcement. Law enforcement officers are poorly trained to deal with acquaintance rapes or to appropriately communicate with rape victims. And, because rape cases have been historically difficult to win, public prosecutors are unlikely to take them to trial.

Universities, Krakauer suggest, should have standardized rape protocols that ensure a speedy and effective response to rape reports. They should also work to curtail the privileges given to college football players. Law enforcement officers should have better training and a system of “best practices” that give officers clear guidelines about how to respond to and investigate rape claims. Finally, prosecutors should more doggedly pursue rape cases, accept that they will lose some of those cases, but work to hold rapists accountable.