The national “It’s On Us” campaign, which looks to raise awareness of sexual assault on college campuses by combating victim blaming and other rape myths on a national level, is coming to the U next week.
The conversations that the campaign brings up are awkward and hard to have, yet they are incredibly important in order to reduce a culture that silences victims and makes sexual assault permissible. Using the college town of Missoula and its instances of reported rape and sexual assault as a case study, Jon Krakauer’s most recent book, Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, contributes to this national conversation by analyzing the systematic problems that lead to widespread college assaults.
It’s not an easy book to read. The difficulty is not because rapes are described in graphic detail or because the writing is incredibly complex, but rather because it is hard to hear about the injustices faced after the initial assault occurs. Once a victim decides to go through the criminal justice system, it seems as if they are facing mountains of bureaucracy dedicated to protecting rapists and blaming victims for their assaults. Krakauer covers everything from the police’s lack of desire to investigate the cases because of the difficulty in prosecuting, to the college town’s insistence that the women were making these stories up.
Perhaps the most infuriating of all the cases mentioned in the book was the one at the book’s core, which details the rape of a young woman by a lifelong friend. In this instance, in which the young man admitted to the crime and all physical evidence found him guilty, the result is still a long, convoluted trial where the defense tries to get the sentence of two years in jail reduced to informal sex therapy. Scores of character witnesses are called to the stand to justify this reduced punishment, saying it would be more of a problem for the young man to go to jail than not — taking into account that he had tried to rape another woman years before.
But although these stories of systematic biases against victims are hard to read, they contribute to Krakauer’s project of highlighting the importance of police officers who believe victims and actually investigate the incidents. Additionally, these assaults also work to dispel common rape myths, such as the idea that acquaintance rape is rare when most assaults are committed by people the victim knows, according to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, or that false accusations are common, when they occur at a rate of 2 to 10 percent, according to a 2010 study in the Violence Against Women journal.
The book does not try to deny that these two events do not happen, but that rape and sexual assault are so much more prevalent than not. This subject may be awkward to talk about, hard to believe or difficult to combat, but this book highlights the importance of starting this conversation.