Rape in a College Town: Book Discussion Resonates

Missoula- Rape and the Justice System in a College TownCorvallis Friends of the Library hosting a book review and discussion at first glance seems more footnote than headline at a paper like ours, but our school year practically started with a reported sexual assault and a check-in with Corvallis’ Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence was in a word, sobering.

Krakauer’s Book
Jon Krakauer’s latest book, Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town is a bold, gritty, and thorough investigation into sexual assault and American culture. Krakauer (who grew up in Corvallis) takes his readers on a harrowing journey into the “Missoula rape scandal” that brought the small Montana town into the national spotlight from 2010 to 2012. Beginning with the rape of Allison Huguet by University of Montana (UM) football player Beau Donaldson in September 2010, the book chronicles the stories of six women who were raped by UM football players and students over the next two years. As is the case with many rape survivors, the decision to report the assault and press charges was only the beginning of a long, frustrating, and oftentimes traumatic fight to win justice. At every turn, these women were ignored, insulted, and invalidated. It was simply the victims’ word versus the perpetrators’, and when the perpetrators are star athletes and hometown heroes, there is a disgraceful lack of consideration given to victims. Even in the few cases where the rapists were convicted, the survivors of rape and sexual assault had their reputations smeared, their safety threatened, and their lives irrevocably altered in the process.

The book itself is gripping and difficult to read. Play-by-play accounts of rape are unflinchingly depicted to readers, as well as lengthy courtroom interrogations. Krakauer details the aftermath of surviving a sexual assault: the paranoia, the loss of trust in oneself and in others, the self-destructive behaviors, and the seemingly irrational responses that survivors often engage in to cope with the trauma. Following these women’s stories, Krakauer walks us through their decision to report the assault, the invasive medical procedures that they must endure, the retelling of their stories to various campus and law-enforcement officials, and the ensuing public spectacle that repeatedly shames their character and dismisses their trauma. These women were subjected to a level of public scrutiny that is usually reserved for elected officials who have fallen from grace; their entire lives became public speculation in an attempt to disprove their accusations and depict them as “jilted lovers.’’

Underlying this entire narrative are major assumptions about power and gender which often get overlooked in these discussions, namely why the victims of rape and sexual assault are rarely treated like victims. Rape is the only crime in which the victim is presumed to be lying. “If a person was mugged in an alley, would we be skeptical of the victim’s testimony…because there weren’t any eyewitnesses?” Would we doubt the victim of a burglary, “because they left the door unlocked?” The victim is the wrong person to blame, whatever the crime. Unfortunately for rape victims, the realities of facing a world of male privilege and male power are daunting. This largely explains why at least 80 percent of women who are raped do not report their assault to authorities.

Masculinity itself is rarely called into question. Why do so many men feel compelled to rape and abuse women in order to assert their masculinity? In what ways does our culture condition the terms of masculinity and to what effect? What type of a culture have we created that leads to behavior like this? While the prosecution and punishment of perpetrators is a step in the right direction, we still have some difficult questions to answer as members of this culture of violence.

And of course, this is not limited to Missoula. As much as we might want to demonize this college town and its improprieties, Missoula typifies many similar towns in the US. With a reported 80 rapes in three years, it falls right on the national average for cities of its size. The story of Missoula is alarming not because of its aberrancy, but because of its normality.

Corvallis’ Statistics Sobering
Letitia Wilson of the Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence provided facts on rape and sexual assault in our community. Her agency received 813 reports of sexual assault last year, and 166 reports during the first three months of this year alone. It is a rare day when CARDV does not hear of a rape or assault in our community. These are staggering numbers, especially when the vast majority of assaults are never even reported. With an average of only 10.6 rape convictions a year over the past five years in Corvallis, the gross disparity between assaults and convictions quickly becomes apparent. On the OSU campus, there were 30 declared rapes and 11 cases of sexual assault over the past three years. These statistics, while below the national average, are far from something to be proud of. It would appear that our community has a long way to go towards creating an atmosphere of safety and equality for all.

Thankfully there is a growing body of resources for victims of rape and sexual assault, and more women are deciding to stand up to their assailants and report their assaults. Here in Corvallis, CARDV provides many resources to victims of assault—men and women—including initial counseling on their 24-hour hotline, assistance with seeking medical care, an emergency shelter, support groups, restraining order assistance, and community education. Women like Heugot and the other Missoula women who were brave enough to tell their stories are challenging male violence by holding perpetrators accountable for their actions. Men like Krakauer are challenging male violence by refusing to be silently complicit, and are setting an example for other men to follow. Whether or not we have been directly affected by rape or sexual assault, we all carry responsibility for challenging the culture of male violence and privilege which allows for women to be assaulted every day in our community.

The Corvallis Friends of the Library review and discussion is slated for Wednesday, Nov. 18 from 12 to 1 p.m. at the Corvallis Library Meeting Room. For more information, visit http://friendsofthecbclibrary.org.

 For more information on local rape and sexual assault resources, contact the Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence at 541-754-0110.

By Jeriah Bowser