Jon Krakauer’s Newest Book and its Effects on Missoula’s Community

Author Jon Krakauer of Into the Wild has a new book coming out next week on April 21st entitled Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town. The city of Missoula has been exchanging opinions about the effects the book will have on the city and University of Montana in anticipation of Krakauer’s book.

After 80 cases of rape were reported over a three year period in Missoula, a federal investigation began in 2012, reported Jessica Murri of Boise Weekly. Major concerns arose that the university and local law enforcement inadequately dealt with these sexual assault prosecutions. In response to the investigation, the university was labeled by many as ‘America’s Rape Capital’.  ​

Krakauer’s book due out April 21st, explores why this string of rapes took place in an the otherwise unlikely city of Missoula. After hearing a story of rape from a woman he knew, Krakauer’s idea for his new book evolved, Murri indicated. Krakauer admitted his own disappointment as to how blind he was to “non-stranger rape”, which occurs when the victim knows the attacker and has a distinguished relationship with that person. This is more or less the type of rape that occurred on the MU campus. For that reason, Krakauer felt it necessary to dig deeper into the issue of rape in Missoula. He contacted various rape victims and listened to the stories of anyone willing to tell him.

The anticipation of Krakauer’s book has left the community divided on what kind of impact his investigations will have on the city. While some agree that the book will be detrimental to the reputation and economy of Missoula and the university, others feel the issue deserves the attention. In a piece by Jake Iverson in the University of Montana’s newspaper, Montana Kaimin, Iverson offers:

“People don’t care about Krakauer’s book. They care about the effect it might have on enrollment or tourism”.

According to Iverson, having someone who will speak out about the string of incidents and give the victims a voice is an accomplishment, not something to ridicule.

J. Larson  of The Missoulian expressed a similar opinion to Iverson’s. Larson notes:

“Missoulians will ‘get over’ whatever speculated impact any negative press may have on the city. The young women documented in Krakauer’s recent book will never ‘get over’ what happened to them, for theirs is a life sentence as victims of sexual assault”.

Larson, who obviously supports Krakauer’s book, offers a strong argument about how pertinent the book is in bringing justice to the victims.

Others have had a different reaction to the book. I had the opportunity of speaking to students at the University of Montana where one student felt that rape has created a somber atmosphere in Missoula and she expressed frustration that the book “will place an everlasting stigma on Missoulians”. Furthermore, the book could leave a lasting stigma about the community, which seems to be what locals fear most, that their tight-nit and friendly city will be threatened by the negative attention.

The University of Montana has more recently taken action to hopefully change the way the school approaches sexual violence.  The University of Montana has introduced several new programs, one of which, “Don’t Cancel That Class”, encourages professors to invite guest speakers to discuss sexual violence in their classes. A second program, “Cutting-edge Bystander-awareness Program”, informs students about strategies that can be used to prevent a sexual violence event from occurring.

Another bystander intervention program was organized by UM’s Student Assault Resource Center this semester. The class required that all students living in residence halls  attend a program to discuss what a bystander is and how one can intervene. Leah Fitch leads the class and is the SARC Advocacy Coordinator. She places emphasis on educating freshmen about sexual assault immediately because they are most susceptible to sexual assault in the first six weeks of attending college.

Another approach to combat sexual assault on campus includes self-defense seminars for women. As told by Gracie Ryan of the Montana Kaimin, one workshop was put together by a group of residence assistants called “Safety and Self-defense”. A different self-defense campaign called, Worth the Fight, was organized by Amanda Rosbarsky, the co-founder of Missoula’s Taekwondo Center. Rosbarksy begins her seminar by teaching women to have a better sense of self-worth. She wants women to be confident and mindful of their own safety when it comes to sexual violence.

Although the city and university remain divided on the impact of Krakauer’s book, steps have been taken to educate the students about preventing rape on their campus. It remains to be seen if the release of the book will have detrimental effects on the community.