- Missoula – Rape and the Justice System in a College Town
- by Jon Krakauer
- Copyright 2015
- Publisher – Doubleday
- 349 pages
Rating – 6.5/10
Summary – In Missoula, Jon Krakauer examines the rash of sexual assaults around the University of Montana circa 2010. The book is readable, and sobering. However, Krakauer’s passion bogs down his narrative, forcing the reader to endure the author’s proselytizing on how to solve the issue.
Review – Around 2010, The University of Montana and the surrounding City of Missoula endured a series of highly-publicized sexual assaults. Many of the crimes involved UM students, including several University of Montana football players. Jon Krakauer covers these cases in his book Missoula.
Missoula’s strengths are an interesting story and Krakauer’s ability to make the reader care about what happens. At his best, Krakauer keeps you on the edge of your seat. He even manages to inject drama into the sentencing hearing for one of the perpetrators. The reader will not be unmoved by Missoula.
Krakauer Taketh Away
But each strength is also a potential form of weakness. In Missoula, Krakauer is engaging in advocacy journalism – he’s up on a soapbox and his book is lesser for it. The Obama administration’s response to campus sexual assault was to require colleges and universities to institute a version of England’s Star Chambers. The “defendants” in such proceedings have zero right to counsel, to question witnesses, or to due process in general. A preponderance of evidence (51%) is all that is needed for a university to “convict” the accused.
Krakauer supports these hearings, though not without reservations. (He mentions of the Duke lacrosse case, but ignores the cautions that it might suggest). To Krakauer, since hearings are merely held to administer university discipline, it is acceptable to label someone a rapist and permanently expel him after of such a hearing, even if those hearing ignore due process. As for universities’ need to make such proceedings fair to all involved, he lamely concludes “Establishing such a process will be difficult, but it’s not rocket science. The challenge can be met, and must be met, because failing to do so would be unconscionable” (p. 347).
My Soapbox – One Person’s Opinion
I’ve spent my entire adult life at universities, as both a student and now as a faculty member. How Krakauer can be sanguine about the outcomes of these hearings baffles me. Judges have training in trying to conduct fair proceedings and in seeking justice. College administrators have zero training in either. In the long run, such proceedings are so antithetical to our ideas of fairness, that I believe that they will be replaced by some other way of seeking the truth.
On the other hand, I do see rays of hope if – as a society – we can encourage rape victims to come forward. In Missoula, Krakauer makes a good case in noting that police can greatly improve the support sexual-assault victims receive. If authorities – and society as a whole – can remove the stigma of alleging sexual assault, I believe that we can begin to address these crimes without bringing back the Star Chamber. Unfortunately, Missoula establishes that we have a long way to travel before victims will feel well served by universities’ and courts’ attempts to right the wrongs they suffer.
My Final Verdict
Missoula is the fourth Krakauer book that I’ve read. (The other three were Into the Wild, Under the Banner of Heaven, and Into Thin Air). Unfortunately, Missoula is the weakest book of the four.
On the positive side, Krakauer brings up a serious issue and makes you care about the victims. But he is so passionate about his point of view that he shows too little respect for the reader’s ability to decide for him- or herself. He’s also blasé about trashing standards of justice that have evolved over centuries.
Missoula’s worth a look, but it’s hardly Krakauer’s finest hour.