Let's Talk About Rape

Fun topic, right? I just finished reading Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer. It's not pleasant, but I could not put it down and it really affected me, so I feel like I have to say something about it. 

The first time I heard a about a rape in my town was my senior year in high school. A football player's parents were out of town and he had a small party. This wasn't a group I usually hung out with, but a few friends and I stopped by. We were bored and slightly uncomfortable so we left after twenty minutes. The following week I heard a girl was gang raped at the same party. I didn't know her at the time, but we became friends a few years later. The details are fuzzy, but she was completely drunk and knows at least three guys came in and out of a bedroom she was lying in. She didn't report it or seek any help.

Three years later, a friend I met in college told me she'd been roofied and raped at her previous college, which is why she took a year off then transferred to our liberal hippie university. (She also didn't report it.) One day after class, I walked her to her Take Back The Night meeting, where they were getting ready for an event, which was a march, rally, vigil, and free self-defense class taking place on campus a few weeks later. I caught up with her that night and she told me more about the organization and how many of her friends had also been raped or sexually assaulted (though not many took place in our college town, thankfully). I was shocked! My naive little brain could not compute.

Then again, I had also been a victim of sexual assault two years earlier, though I didn't really know there was a name for it at the time. It was something I hadn't thought much about since it happened. When I was going to community college I lived in a house with three roommates. My roommate's friend, LD (I usually don't use real names on my blog, but fuck him) had hung out with us a few times before, but I wouldn't call him my friend. One night we all went to a party with LD in tow. It was low key with less than twenty people and we were all friends or at least acquaintances. We just drank, danced, talked, and played card games. LD wasn't on my radar until I noticed how hard he was flirting with two of my friends. He seemed to be following them around. One girl was irritated, but the other ended up kissing him. We left the party and got home around midnight where the five of us snacked and talked for about twenty minutes before retreating to our own bedrooms. LD was too drunk to drive and crashed on our couch. Maybe a half an hour later, I woke up with LD on top of me in my bed. He put his hands under my shirt and started trying to pull down my pj pants. I moved my head from side to side to get his disgusting mouth off my face. He was bigger than me (which isn't always the case since I'm six feet tall) and strong and heavy, but I finally pushed him hard enough to make him sit up a little. He said, "What?" like he seriously didn't know something was off with this whole scene. I ran out of my room, into Carrie's, and called Jacob who lived six blocks away. When Jacob got there, LD was asleep (or pretending to be) on the couch. Jacob and I were just friends at the time, but I still don't know how he was able to maintain composure and not pick a fight with LD. He says I urged him to ignore it. Jacob stayed with me that night and Carrie told our roommate about what his friend did to me the next morning. He promised me LD was not welcome in our house. I never saw him again, but I also never went to sleep without locking my bedroom door after that.

The only people I told about this were my roommates and Jacob. If I told my parents they would have made me move back home. Also, it was embarrassing. I had a hard time bringing it up to Jacob yesterday when I asked him if he remembered it. It was nothing near rape or even attempted rape so reporting it never crossed my mind. But if I didn't fight him off, would he have raped me? What in the hell gave him the idea or right to come into my bedroom?! I hadn't said more than thirty words to him all night and I didn't have any impression that he was interested in me. I don't think I thought it was that big of a deal at the time, but it could have escalated and I'm more mad about it now than I ever was before. So many women don't behave the way we assume they would during a sexual attack. We expect victims to kick and scream or run away, but most young women are shocked and confused and want the whole thing over with so they freeze and don't do or say a thing. If you aren't saying no or stop, many men believe you are giving consent. I honestly don't think I muttered a single word when LD was on top of me, but there's no way he could have thought I consented to what he was doing.

When I transferred to my university, I remember getting pamphlets right away about safety and sexual assault and posters were plastered in every women's restroom. We were told not to walk alone at night, call campus security if we felt uncomfortable or saw something suspicious, and were taught what to do if we were the victim of a sexual crime. Like I said before, it was a very liberal school and surprisingly light on crime. There had been a few burglaries, a lot of liquor law violations (MIPs), some smashed car windows, a few assaults, and even a case or two of stalking, but less than five reported sexual assaults/rapes each year. Again, even after my own assault, I was naive. I blew off everything I read and never felt unsafe. I was also a junior, I had a boyfriend, I wasn't going to random parties, and our school didn't have Greek system. Now I wonder how much was actually going down.

The subject in Krakauer's book is the University of Montana and Missoula. It's a typical college town in a beautiful area of the country with a beloved football team, but also known as "America's Rape Capital." The Department of Justice got involved after 350 sexual assaults were reported to police in the span of four years and very few cases were properly handled. In fact, of the 85 rape cases in that period only 14 resulted in charges. You probably already heard about all of this in the news, but the book dives a lot deeper, following the stories of several women from the night they were raped, the devastating emotional aftermath, their treatment by police and prosecutors, and the criminal cases or university investigations. I thought I was aware of this crisis based on the news and my knowledge of women's issues, but I learned so much. Like, how most women in this age range are raped by people they know, the many reasons victims don't bother pressing charges, and how horrible a rape kit is. (I seriously had no idea it was so invasive and awful!)

The book is well written, but some of the content is difficult to read and there are many subjects so it can be hard to keep them straight. Krakauer wasn't completely unbiased either. I worked in criminal defense (though not on rape cases; we didn't handle Class A felonies) and I wish he would have interviewed more of the rapists, city officials, attorneys and police officers. There was also one case where I don't think the rapist even knew he was actually raping, which is a problem in itself. I would have appreciated more time spent on rape culture too. The end of the book might be a little boring because it heavily quotes court transcripts and details administrative changes.

TL;DR I finished this book in a day and can't stop thinking about it. I literally still have a stomachache. The saddest thing is, what happened in Missoula is mirrored in most college towns across the country. It's a huge problem. Overall, the details in this book are absolutely infuriating, but I highly recommend reading it. 


SMD @ lifeaccordingtosteph said...

Reading about your experience with LD brought back a few less pleasant memories of my own, things that live on the edge of my mind that were not technically assaults but were for shit sure violations I was not comfortable with. How sad that we just sort of swallow them, right? And how lucky that we can because they weren't rape as we think of it.

This book is on my list. It sounds like an important one that will be read by people who already think it's important and not by people who actually need to read it.

Misty, Handbags + Handguns said...

It's horrible that it happens so often. It's also horrible that many women feel shamed and don't report it. I had something happen to me as a child. I wasn't raped, but was sexually assaulted by a "step" family member. Once you do report it, the process is so awful for the victim. Our system is so messed up.

Mree said...

My friend works with victims of sexual assault and its heartbreaking. There are not enough laws to protect the victim. It's so messed up. Most of the woman she works with never press charges because they are too scared. It's so sad.

Karen Peterson said...

It really is scary to think of how many assaults go unreported.

I find myself so interested in this topic, but so sickened by it at the same time. It makes it hard to read much about this stuff.

Rose @ Ramblin' Rose said...

I'm just going to echo Steph's comment, specifically "things that live on the edge of my mind that were not technically assaults but were for shit sure violations I was not comfortable with".

Missoula has been on my list since it came out. I think I need to read it.

Tiffany said...

You are so brave for sharing your experience here! And yes, just like Steph said it brought up some unpleasant memories.

I have trouble with Krakauer's books but I think this one is quite important. I should give it a shot.

Micah said...

Thank you for sharing your experience. That's really bold and brave of you. But I feel like if we keep silent about these things, we give them power. We need to talk more about rape and what we can do to stop it. Also, I'm intrigued by this book.

Elle Sees said...

thank you for sharing your experience with us. i know that wasn't easy to do. i'm glad there is a book to bring this unfortunately common issue to light. the more awareness the better and hopefully a change for the better!

Erin of TexErin-in-SydneyLand said...

I was going to "second" Steph's comment. Then, I read the other comments. How terribly tragic that in a blog post with 10 of us chiming in (you + me + the 8 other comments), several of us share similar experiences.

I have a friend who is from the UK. She reported a similar experience that did turn into a full-blown sexual assault. She pressed charges, the guy was charged, then charges were dropped. Another tragic example of what happens in these type events.

Thank you for sharing your story.