Book Review — Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town
Jon Krakauer has always been a favorite author of mine. Into Thin Air, Under the Banner of Heaven, and his other books have always been instant page-turners, while at the same time educating me about a topic that I typically do not have much personal experience in. When I heard about his newest book, “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town,” I was excited. I typically shy away from reading books that are focused on legal issues for the sheer reason that reading is a de-stressor and an escape from my everyday life (work). However, I have always found his writing to be fairly neutral and well-informed.
This book is about the phenomenon of acquaintance rape in college towns. The first part of the book tells several victims’ stories of having been raped by acquaintances during their college years at the University of Montana in Missoula, including the actual event and the aftershocks of dealing with the incident. This part was interesting and brought to my attention an issue that I was frankly unaware was such a prevalent problem.
When I got into the second part of the book, I took a little offense to the description of the legal system and the different actors. There is a section of the book where Krakauer talks about prosecutors and defense attorneys. He includes a quote from a King County prosecuting attorney: “Judges tend to hold prosecutors to a higher level of truthfulness than defense counsel…. if prosecutors make statements in court that aren’t true, and the defendant is convicted, the defense can appeal and get the conviction overturned. But there is no corresponding deterrent when defense lawyers make untrue statements, because if a defendant is acquitted, the prosecution can’t appeal.” He goes on to describe several aggressive and seemingly unethical defense attorneys in Missoula that were involved in the case.
I know that, as a criminal defense attorney, I am a little biased. However, the book was slanted in a way that made it seem like the criminal justice system was wholly failing victims of rape and should take a more aggressive stand on prosecuting and convicting people accused of sex offense crimes. While this may be true, it failed to also highlight the consequences of wrongfully convicting, let alone just charging someone of a sex offense. While I appreciated the book and the issue it discussed, I do not think it did justice to the constitutional rights enjoyed by those accused of crimes, nor did it acknowledge the attorneys who have dedicated their lives to helping uphold those constitutional rights and assist and protect defendants.
The moral of this story, I concluded, is that I should continue to avoid reading law-related books for pleasure. However, I would absolutely recommend Missoula to anyone interested in learning more about the phenomenon of acquaintance rape and related legal issues.