Section 1: Short Review of Book.
Missoula by Jon Krakauer is an account of the rape crisis that existed at the University of Montana – Missoula. The student body is around 12,000 undergraduates and like most major universities (e.g. Georgia, Wisconsin, Florida State and the like) there is a very deep connection to the Montana Grizzley’s football team. The connection to the team is held not just by students but the town and many citizens around the state who are alumni.
Kraukauer’s book revolves around the stories of Allison Huguet & Beau Donaldson, Kerry Barrett & Zeke Adams, Kaitlynn Kelly & Calvin Smith and Cecilia Washburn & Jordan Johnson. Donaldson and Johnson were both football players (Johnson the star quarterback). Though Krakauer has other stories documented these are the primary actors regarding victim and assailant narrative. Kraukauer also brings in Kirsten Pabst and Fred VanValkenburg – local prosecutors who would eventually come under serious scrutiny for their handling of potential rape prosecutions. Dean Coulture is also a major player within the university that seems to take a hard line stance on rape cases – often adjudicating people guilty of rape and sexual assault thus expelling them. Other players are involved too such as local police detectives – some of whom are scrutinized for siding with alleged perpetrators over victims and high end university officials who appear to override Dean Coulture and other’s decisions to expel students – athletes in particular.
With the characters in place Missoula documents the complexities revolving the ‘why’ people engage in rape and sexual assault and the difficulties in ‘how’ we punish those accused of these crimes. Missoula is a college town with a party atmosphere – everyone involved in these cases are drunk or on some mix of drugs. Moreover, these are not stranger rapes – all of these involve fellow students. It calls into question the myth that rape is done by predators in the bushes – the evidence seems to suggest rape and assault are done by acquaintances or people worthy of trust. Outside of Donaldson’s case there is an element of ‘he said/she said’ to the cases which makes prosecution and investigation difficult. Further, it appears those charged with investigating and prosecuting these crimes do not know all the laws surrounding what rape and sexual assault is and may even let their own personal bias’ get in the way of how these cases are handled. Take for example Pabst’s support for Calvin Smith despite serious contradictions and shortcomings in his story that suggest the case should have been prosecuted. Finally, we see that punishments vary widely – Donaldson was sentenced to prison for 10 years but with his deal will likely be out in two while Johnson was acquitted. Had Donaldson kept his mouth shut he may have stayed a free man. Smith was never prosecuted despite there being more evidence in his case that suggested prosecution than others that were prosecuted.
In the end Krakauer forces readers to confront the realities of rape and sexual assault. As crimes they are handled differently by police and prosecutors. As society we treat the victims differently – many of the girls were shammed by their peers and publicly harassed if they accused a football player. Krakauer calls for serious political and social change to eventually bring about a more uniform and humane way of handling rape and sexual assault cases so the guilty are punished and the rare times someone is falsely accused they go free or better yet never arrested.
Section 2: Implications for Public Policy
Missoula forced me to once again re-think everything I believe about law, justice and the role culture plays in it. Like what we saw in Our Guys when an athlete was accused of rape many people did not want to believe it and even accused the victims of lying. Donaldson’s case is the most disheartening – despite his confession many people believed he was innocent and it was all fabricated. With Johnson – many fans wrote on public forums the accusation was a witch hunt and declared themselves vindicated with his not guilty verdict. We don’t do this with other victims of crimes. Thus culture really can undermine the rule of law and honestly if it was up to the town it is questionable that any of these college kids would ever have been punished. The men in Missoula (without knowing more) feel like the high status perpetrators discussed by Donald Black (1976) who commit crimes against lower status victims – probability of punishment is lowest in these situations.
Thus I tend to believe in a formal system but that has its problems. The university system was effectively a stacked deck against the defendants (e.g. lower burden of proof, no lawyers and the like) which offends my personal sense of justice and fairness. Yet Pabst and VanValkenberg seemed to betray their own duties as prosecutors by focusing on having a high success rate of prosecutions rather than taking chances and couching their decisions in weak arguments of not enough evidence. We talked about this in class – people go on death row with less evidence than exists in the cases documented by Krakauer.
I believe control through law should be achieved but not without recognition that there can be improper influences thus we need to be honest with each other as a society. Not an easy thing to do in an age of such sharp political strife and no matter which side your on its with us or against us. I think control through law has a better chance of eliminating the inequities of an informal system of justice but again – it takes an informed, open and engaged citizenry to do this.
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