First Impressions of Krakauer’s MISSOULA

by William Skink

Yesterday I bought a copy of Jon Krakauer’s book Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town. I didn’t intend to binge read, but the way Krakauer weaves the narratives of the rape victims and their experiences with the “justice” system, I had a hard time putting it down.

Many readers of this blog will recall posts from jhwygirl, Patrick Duganz, JC and myself during this period of intense scrutiny. I don’t have time right now to compile a list of relevant posts, but I’ve browsed a few and they are certainly validated by Krakauer’s storytelling. It’s a story we wouldn’t be talking about without the courage of the victims and the fearless reporting of Gwen Florio, who brought the public scrutiny to the systemic barriers stacked against victims who report being sexually assaulted.

I’m sure plenty of people will share their impressions as they read the book. For those who don’t read the book, my hope is you keep your mouthes shut and fingers idle. To have an opinion worth sharing, you must read the accounts represented by Krakauer.

The agency most exposed for perpetuating rape culture in Missoula is clearly the Missoula County Attorney’s Office, so before you go out and spend money on an Andy Smetanka’s revisionist rape culture denial poster maybe spend some time reflecting on the fact Missoula elected rape culture enthusiast, Kirsten Pabst, to lead the office she bailed on, mid-scandal, to protect rapists from the consequences of their crimes.

In one of the most disturbing passages, highlighted over at Intelligent Discontent, we see the truly fucked up thinking regarding consent from one of the primary agents of injustice in this sordid story:

So even if you’d given it previously, that doesn’t count if you’re asleep, right?” “Correct,” Pabst replied. A moment later, however, she hedged: “Well, it depends. That’s not really a hard-and-fast rule. But some people would argue that if I go home with someone and we say, ‘Well, we’re going to go have sex,’ and then I fall asleep and wake up and he’s having sex with me—some people would say that’s consensual, and some people would say it’s not.” The questioner followed up: “What does the law say?” “I don’t know the answer to that,” Pabst answered. “There is no hard-and-fast rule.”

There will be more to write, but one thing is clear: Missoula, there is still an immense amount of work to be done.

  1. Kathy

    What’s even more disturbing is the 10 page letter sent to Krakauer’s publisher by Ms. Pabst. She didn’t even read the f***n’ book! There is just something so fundamentally wrong about her stance and the fact that she left the county attorney’s office as a deputy, defended a man accused of rape in one of the key cases then runs for county attorney. Unfortunately she won. Very sad.

  2. There is unprosecuted rape here in Missoula. Here in Montana.

    The statute of limitation has not expired on many of those cases detailed in Krakauer’s book. In the DOJ report.

    Van Valkenburg fought for his right to not prosecute those crimes….and Missoula elected a rape apologist to do more of the same. Montana Attorney General Tim Fox – who campaigned on the issue of protecting children from pedophiles – has declared Missoula a success.

    I do love how Pabst takes credit for changes that were not only implemented under Van Valkenburg, but done under the settlement agreement with the DOJ. Things like the “soft room” and additional attorneys, and the consultant and annual review.

    City leaders and University officials are more concerned with the book’s affect on enrollment and tourist dollars, saying we’ve moved on while they’re still in denial of the root of the problems that brought us the Rape Capital, USA label.

    Here’s a hint: Step 1 – Admit your problem.

    Instead we continue to get statistics on how Missoula is no different than other communities.

    Lovely the standards our elected officials are comfortable with when it comes to sexual assault and gang rape, isn’t it?

    I can’t bring myself to get past page 3. I know what’s there – Krakauer is skillfully putting real faces and real names and real places and real imagery to situations that have been reported in the press, in the DOJ report, and whispered in offices, on phones and in bars and elsewhere.

    I can’t bring myself to read further, but I will. It will be tough. Because as I read that I think of the rape victims. Of their fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters. Of the 5 year old child’s mother.

    I think of how they live this story every day, regardless of the latest media interest.

    Of how every day they know that their rapist was not charged. Was not arraigned. Was not put on trial.

    I think of how they must feel to see and hear electeds pat themselves on the back for doing such a good job addressing sexual assault. Of how far Missoula’s apparently come – except that we were always no worse than anywhere else, right?

    I think of how the survivors must feel having Missoula bemoan the title of the book.

    Yes. The title.

    And what it will do to enrollment.

    So yeah – Pabst can get into an empty pissing match with Krakauer.

    But me? Unlike Pabst, unlike Mayor Engen, Unlike President Royce Engstrom, Grizz Nation and the Chamber of Commerce and the rest of that self-serving crowd, I’ll be thinking of the victims survivors, and I will continue to hope that someone sees fit to prosecute the perpetrators of the crimes.

  3. By naming a book about rape in a small town the name of the small town itself AND using an iconic image of that town’s identity, the author/publisher attempt to subvert (deny) the identity of the community in that town so as to be tantamount to rape, itself. What I see in Andy Smetanka’s poster is not rape culture denialism, but rather retaking the town’s name and the clock tower and “M” from being reduced to one albeit important topic… And making it ours once again. It’s our town. All of it — even the problem with rapes — but to make Missoula the metaphor for rape is violent reductionism. Which is ironic if you think about it.

    Some might insist that to redirect the conversation to anything but the victims of this local nightmare is unpardonable. While this may be a natural empathic human response to any systemic cultural issue with real victims who have to live with the memories of it, I don’t and can’t support the use of either/or, “a vs. not-a” Euclidean logic in trying to define the issue. By tarring and feathering others in the community as “self-serving” continuously, we risk perpetuating the cultural forces that permitted the violence and supported the cover ups in the first place. While victims certainly deserve an honored and esteemed place in the focus to heal and in the conversation, to blunt other’s perspectives or blithely allow “MISSOULA” to be made equivalent to rape culture by corporate marketers is, in my opinion, unwise. Communities are, by nature, complex and abstractly reified things. We need to respond to many kinds of injustice. The truth is the horror must be revealed and owned across and throughout the system – and that means dialogic exchange by all parts and perspectives. The “Missoula” book is pushing that conversation. Smetanka’s work defacing and reusing Krakauer’s book cover might come across as containing a message that “apologizes” for our rape culture… but methinks that’s a distorted projection of certain people who view it and respond out of their own concern. That’s one of the fundamental, nontrivial roles that art plays in society.

    • An impassioned comment. But as a Missoula ex-pat, I’m curious about what “Our Missoula” really means. Van Valkenburg’s lawsuit expressed that precise sentiment, that ‘it’s our town’ and no one else has any claim to make comment concerning it. The only thing added by your comment, wainbrave, is the vague implication that it’s corporate media driving the story, reducing a community down to ‘one issue’. That hardly seems accurate given that the moniker “Rape capital of the US” was given the town by a decidedly non-corporate source, a website. The DOJ, the NCAA and the voracious consumers of information didn’t seem to think that Missoula is a possession to be judged only by those who live there.

      At this very website I have been chastised for critiquing or commenting about Missoula because I’m a “Bobcat” now. I lived in Missoula for 20+ years. I watched it’s unions die and went to school with many of the cast-offs. I’ve only read the first two chapters so far, but Krakauer makes it plain from the beginning that Missoula’s identity is intimately tied to the U of M and the Grizzlies. So what is it that makes Missoula “Our town”? Is it history, concern both near and far, the Grizzlies, self-protection? Or is it, in fact, defined by what it allows as part of it’s ‘culture’, the rape of women? Perhaps I just see things differently than you, but I don’t see a reduction of the town to anything save among those defensive enough to hide the possession from ‘prying eyes’.

      Wainbrave, you make one more statement I take issue with: “We need to respond to many kinds of injustice.” True dat. Except that the whole point of Krakauer’s book appears to be that “We” didn’t and haven’t responded to anything. “Our Missoula” has stuck it’s metaphorical head in the sand, and now seeks to deflect observation by claiming right of ownership. That observation tends to degrade Smetanka’s work from the lofty ideal of ‘art’ to a cheap political cartoon urging blowback against the truth. Krakauer hasn’t held up Missoula as a “metaphor” (your description) of rape culture, but rather a stark and factual example of it. Any and all are welcome to hold up the notion that Missoula has been misrepresented as a ‘theoretical’ bad case (metaphor), but the facts are what they are. There is nothing theoretical about example and fact. Missoula has a problem as likely most college towns do. So far, the efforts of ‘our Missoula’ are to keep burying the problem in the sand like a smelly cat turd, and claim possession over who gets to see the problem and who doesn’t.

    • Wow. Your concern for the victims amounts to what? 8 words?

      Your comment illustrates Missoula’s problem.

  4. Maybe Krakauer can now move on to our reservations where a woman’s chance of being raped far exceed any college campus.

    “A study from the Justice Department found that Native American women are two and half times more likely to be raped than other women. The majority of victims said they were raped by men from outside the reservation, according to a victimization survey.”-NPR, Sullivan author.

    • JC

      Apartheid, american-style.

      Note: “The majority of victims said they were raped by men from outside the reservation”

      I hope you’re not making a moral judgment on native americans. The problem was not created by them, nor is the non-enforcement of their own making:

      The [Standing Rock] tribe’s chairman, Ron His Horse Is Thunder, stood on the porch of his log cabin overlooking the plains where his people have lived for thousands of years.

      “Rape amongst our people was one of those unheard of crimes, he said. “Not because people didn’t talk about it, but at one point in time, it didn’t occur.”

      That is no longer the case, and the chairman says that as long as the tribe must depend on the federal government to police and prosecute people on their own land, anyone who comes here may well be able to rape or assault women… and get away with it.

      “There’s a word amongst our people,” he said, pronouncing an Indian phrase. “Simply stated, that we are all related, but it’s more than just me and my cousin being related. It means that anything that happens to the tribe or one its members will affect everybody.”

      And why can’t tribal governments prosecute non-indians on the Rez?

      A 1978 U.S. Supreme Court ruling stripped tribes of any criminal jurisdiction over non-tribal members on their reservations.

      But the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in 2013 allowed tribes to charge non-Indians who are married to or in a partnership with a tribal member for domestic violence crimes and violations of protection orders.

      And leave Krakauer out of this. He got nothing to add to the story of what happens on the Rez. Though I could see the title of a hypothetical book: Reservations: America’s Hidden Holocaust in the Last Best Place.

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