It is, or at least it should be, a matter of grave importance to not just women but to society as a whole that the U.S. Department of Justice estimates 110,000 women between the ages of 18 and 24 are raped annually, and that 80 percent of rapes are unreported—making it the least reported felony in America.
Thanks mainly to the efforts of some very brave campus rape victims who initially found each other on social media and started pressuring colleges and the Department of Education, President Obama last year became the first man in his job to utter the term “sexual violence” in the White House.
The Obama administration also initiated a program called Not Alone, aimed at addressing the problem, which included the DOE naming and shaming some of the country’s most venerated universities for not taking proper steps to protect women and punish perpetrators.
One suggested solution often lost or overlooked: Rather than putting the onus on women to protect each other and themselves, have men take responsibility to pressure other men not to assault women. There are, too often, bystanders who look away, especially when it comes to campus and date or non-stranger rape. In an interview with me about the Not Alone initiative last year, Vice President Joe Biden said men “have an obligation to holler…and to say, Hey, look what the hell he’s doing!”
With his latest book, Missoula: Rape and The Justice System in a College Town, Jon Krakauer has issued a graphic holler of outrage, coming—crucially—from a man. Krakauer, a best-selling author well-known for his books about feats of mountain climbing and wilderness treks (among other topics) brings literary heft and, therefore, more mainstream attention to a dire and important topic normally relegated to feminists and victims preaching to the choir about rape culture.
And this is a good and needed thing.
Krakauer’s book closely chronicles several of the 350 rape cases reported to the Missoula police between January 2008 and May 2012. Missoula is a college town, and that rate of rape incidence tracks with that of other college towns around America.
Krakauer has said he knew nothing of the topic until he learned that a close friend had been raped on two occasions and suffered lasting emotional trauma and addiction issues as a result. He reportedly chose to focus on Missoula because it came up frequently in Internet searches on date and campus rape early in his research.
Based on interviews and court and police records, Krakauer details several “non-stranger” rapes, from the incidents themselves, to their effects on the victims and the perpetrators’ lives, the families, the university, the police and the local justice system.
Two of the three main female characters (all of whose names are in the book) were raped while they slept or were slipping in and out of consciousness. A third said she was was raped by the University of Montana’s quarterback who—in an incredible twist—was defended in court by the former head of the prosecutor’s sexual assault division, a woman who left her public job and went into private practice during the case, and after the case became the county’s chief prosecutor.
All the victims knew their attackers, and in some cases had willingly gotten into bed with them, but say they had said no to sex. Two of the three cases went to court—atypical of campus rapes. Of the three men, two were football players; one pled guilty and received jail time, one (not a member of the team) was expelled from college and one—the revered quarterback who pled innocent and insisted the sex was consensual—was acquitted and welcomed back to school and his team.
There’s blame to go around, but Krakauer portions most of it on the top county prosecutors. In one case that the prosecutor refused to charge, the perpetrator was on videotape walking away from a dorm room with bloodstained sheets and walls, carrying his victim’s jeans as a trophy, which he swung around in front of his friends when he got back to his dorm.
The victim in that case had invited the perp into her dorm room, but decided she didn’t want to have sex with him when she noticed her roommate in the bed nearby. She fell asleep fully clothed beside him, only to wake up with the perpetrator repeatedly jamming three fingers into her vagina and anus “with stabbing motions.” Hence the blood.
When that victim showed up at the police station with her story of bloodied walls and sheets, the first question she had to answer was whether she had a boyfriend. The police detective explained to her that women who cheated on their boyfriends often subsequently cry rape.
The police chief conceded he believed 50 percent of rape accusations are false. Krakauer traces this number back to “discredited” studies propagated by online “men’s rights” groups.
Every victim is named and on the record here, which should help the book stand as a powerful counterpoint to the lying-victim propaganda that got boosted after the disastrous Rolling Stone rape-story retraction last year.
Krakauer tells a sad and infuriating story, but it is also a bit dull. Too often, the writing is uninspired and the chapters veer predictably between bits of quote, narrative and statistics or tertiary sources like psychologists and law enforcement experts. It’s not a bad book, but because this is Krakauer, expectations exceed what’s on offer.
There is a book on this topic that desperately needs to be written, and Krakauer was the man to do it. We learn, for example, that a star collegiate quarterback who could have had sex with many willing women allegedly chose to hold down and force himself on one who told police and prosecutors that she had said no—but we don’t have any idea why. The Krakauer who wrote Under the Banner of Heaven would have left us with a better, deeper understanding of that quarterback.
He did interview one of the perps, the pseudonymously named country boy named Calvin Smith. Smith was a virgin when he entered Kaitlyn Kelly’s dorm room—invited—and remained a virgin even after assaulting her with his fingers until she bled. Everything Smith knew about female anatomy may or may not have come from the Internet porn that led him to believe his victim would “squirt” if he just jammed his fingers inside her hard and long enough. He sobbed when police told him Kelly reported him as a rapist, and he always insisted he thought she was enjoying herself, even though she ran to the bathroom crying when she managed to escape.
Friends and family described Smith as “kind” and “easygoing.” His mother, of course, says, “He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body.” But there’s no explanation from him or anyone else as to what prompted him to post on his Facebook page a mangled version of a line from the animated sitcom Family Guy: “women are not people god just put them here for mans entertainment [sic].”
Krakauer interviews an oft-quoted forensic psychologist and rape trial expert witness named David Lisak, who has conducted surveys—reproduced by other researchers—indicating that between 6 and 14 percent of men are committing the vast majority of non-stranger rapes. Lisak calls these men “undetected rapists” and estimates they are responsible for 14 victims each. He tells Krakauer that since these undetected multiple rapists commit 90 percent of non-stranger rapes, police and prosecutors must reframe how they approach these crimes. Those who get away with it simply “hone their skills” like, Krakauer says, salesman who learn how to close a deal, getting better after every encounter.
Krakauer has done a great service by taking on this subject. Thanks to him, many facts and misconceptions about date rape will go mainstream, and even become airport reading. The book reportedly goes to press with a print run of 500,000 copies.
But the missing piece in the fight against rampant rape and the “rape culture” that abets it, from police stations to football stadiums, is the men. Women can say “no” all they want, but nothing will really change in dark dorm rooms and frat houses until more men change.
We will have to wait a while longer for the book Krakauer might have written, the one that explores from the inside all the social factors that produce and enable so many young men who prefer drunk, drugged, supine, knocked-cold or forcibly restrained female flesh to consensual sex with conscious and willing women.