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Jon Krakauer tackles campus rape in ‘typical’ college town

In many ways, Missoula, Montana, is a typical American college town. Now it’s the setting of author and journalist Jon Krakauer’s new investigative book, which dissects a series of student sexual assault cases and the challenges of prosecuting certain abusers. Krakauer joins Jeffrey Brown for a conversation.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now the newest addition to the PBS NewsHour bookshelf.

    It is an all-too-familiar story in recent years. College women report sexual assaults and their struggle to find justice.

  • Author Jon Krakauer, best known for “Into Thin Air,” takes on this issue in his newest book, “Missoula:

    Rape and the Justice System in a College Town.”

    He talked with Jeff earlier this week at Busboys and Poets here in the Washington area.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Jon Krakauer, welcome to you.

  • JON KRAKAUER, Author, “Missoula:

    Rape and the Justice System in a College Town”: Thanks.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Let me start with the title, because I wonder, was Missoula a kind of case study for you standing for a large national problem or a very specific place with its own specific problems?

  • JON KRAKAUER:

    Well, it certainly has its own specific problems, but I — it stands for the larger problem.

    Missoula is in many ways — it’s a beautiful place, but, in many ways, it’s a typical town. In fact, the rate of sexual assaults in Missoula is slightly less than the national average. It is not some outlier. This is an American town that has a problem that is, I think, fairly universal. It’s a college town and it exemplifies what is — what — something we need to look at.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Well, so you dissected a series of cases in Missoula.

    Give me an example that helps us understand the kind of problems that you see that are sort of endemic to this system?

  • JON KRAKAUER:

    Many people don’t realize that 85 percent of rapes are done by an acquaintance of the victim, someone often who knows the victim very well.

    It’s not a stranger who breaks into your apartment. It’s someone you know and trust. The first case I read about in the book was a young woman who went to a party, drank a little too much to drive home, but wasn’t exceptionally drunk, was offered a couch to sleep on. She woke up in the wee hours with her best friend…

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Who she’d known for a long, long time.

  • JON KRAKAUER:

    … since first grade.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Yes.

  • JON KRAKAUER:

    She trusted him more than anyone in the world — raping her.

    One of the cases I looked at was a gang rape of four football players taking advantage of a woman who was drunk. Being raped by your — someone you trust as much as Allison Huguet, the woman who was raped by her best friend, that’s in many ways more devastating than to be raped by a stranger. And research shows this.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    There are instances where things are followed up by authorities, and then others where they are not, right, where there are prosecutions in the end, or in some cases there are not. Other cases, they’re just badly…

  • JON KRAKAUER:

    Missoula became the focus of a Department of Justice investigation.

    And among these 350 cases the DOJ looked at, they found that the Missoula prosecutors almost never prosecuted a case that involved drugs or alcohol. Well, drugs and alcohol are present in almost every acquaintance rape case.

    So — and that’s common, too, because it’s so challenging to prosecute rape cases, especially a town — a college town like Missoula, with a very good football team, and football players are elevated — you know, they’re gods. To get a jury who will convict a football player in a place like that is very difficult.

    So, the prosecutors can’t get convictions because juries all love the Grizz, the Grizzlies. So prosecutors become jaded. The police become lazy about investigating sometimes or resign, because, in Missoula, even when they give prosecutors sometimes signed confessions, the prosecutors wouldn’t prosecute.

    So it’s this vicious circle, this self-fulfilling prophecy. And no cases are prosecuted unless they’re absolutely slam dunks, where there’s no question.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    In the end of the book, you write a personal note, and very personal, about your own experience of some — a young woman you knew, but you didn’t know that she had been raped and that she had had a very hard time living with it long after.

    Did that make this sort of a mission for you to look, yes?

  • JON KRAKAUER:

    This began as very much a personal — I was so ashamed. This woman’s like a daughter to me. I was unaware of the trauma.

    She had been raped in her teens, 10 years earlier, and had suffered from that trauma for the ensuing decade, until it finally — her life fell apart and she ended up in rehab.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    You’re a very well-known writer. You’re going into a different territory. And this has gotten a lot of attention. Let’s face it, right?  There were reports, in fact, your book was kind of rushed ahead after what we’d seen at the University of Virginia.

  • JON KRAKAUER:

    Well, that — it wasn’t rushed ahead.

    I had — actually, the book was delayed, because it was supposed to be due in September of 2014. And because I spent more time trying to fact-check and polish it, I didn’t turn it in until January. My critics have looked for ways to discredit me.

    And one of them is that I rushed it, I didn’t do my homework, I was lazy, I phoned it in. I have never done more fact-checking. I have never done more meticulous reporting. I was very careful in this book. I certainly interviewed a lot of victims. And one of the rapists agreed to be interviewed.

    But I relied on documents. I had police reports. I got a lot of stuff I wasn’t supposed to have, audio recordings of university adjudications. So this is no “Rolling Stone” fiasco. This is rock-solid evidence.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Do you see any good coming from all the attention that this issue has gotten over the last few years?

  • JON KRAKAUER:

    Absolutely.

    Some brave women started coming forward and saying, I have got nothing to be ashamed about. The guy who raped me should be ashamed. I’m going to use my name. I have suffered enough.

    And that has emboldened other women. And there seems to be this sort of critical mass that I hope is happening, where it becomes more openly discussed. At least 80 percent of rapes in this country are not reported to the police. And I set out in this book to understand why. Why is it — what is it like for a victim that it makes them so reluctant to go to the authorities?

    I mean, it’s grim. The way they were treated by police, prosecutors, their friends and peers, in a town like Missoula, these victims suffered just unbelievable abuse and harassment.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    What is it that makes you want to tackle a subject and write a book?

  • JON KRAKAUER:

    I don’t write a book unless it’s just got me by the lapels and won’t let go.

    I’m drawn to kind of extreme situations, people who take things too far. This is a little different than that. This, I had — has that personal connection. And this was really difficult. I really feared, and I still fear, for how the victims I write about are going to be treated, the backlash they are going to face from this.

    To my great surprise, Allison Huguet from the get-go said, “I want you to use my real name.”

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Yes.

  • JON KRAKAUER:

    But every woman who I wrote about who I had interviewed, to my surprise, said, “No, I want you to use my real name.”

    I said no, and they said yes. And I think that’s great. These are courageous young women who agreed to let me use their stories.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    All right, Jon Krakauer, thank you so much.

  • JON KRAKAUER:

    Thank you so much for having me on the show.

     

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