Engaging with Jon Krakauer
Contributor
Written by
Ellen Bravo
July 2015
Contributor
Written by
Ellen Bravo
July 2015

A best-selling author, Jon Krakauer, writes a nonfiction book around acquaintance rape--the subject of my novel, Again and Again. He gets rave reviews. Feminists note that they’ve been making the same points he did for the last several decades, but the media acts as if he’s discovered the subject. The author himself is candid about his late arrival into this sphere--in fact, he’s ashamed that it took him so long to realize how prevalent and harmful acquaintance rape is in our country.

I follow all this and think what a boon it would be for Krakauer to provide financial support to the growing movement against campus sexual assault. (Okay, what I really think is, wow, this guy is making a bundle off our movement and not contributing a penny.) If I make any profits from Again and Again--a long shot, as we all know--I intend to donate 20 percent of the proceeds to groups like Know Your IX and A Long Walk Home. What kind of post can I write to get Krakauer’s attention? Is it smart or shameless to insert my novel and my own intentions into the piece?

Below is the blog post I wrote, published on Ms. Magazine’s website. I decided to frame it as a challenge to feminists and to Krakauer. I want my feminist friends to applaud the huge new audience he’s bringing to the issue. And I want him to appreciate the one area he left out of his book--the role of activists in bringing about the changes he calls for. As for self-promotion, I realized I had to dial it back--it didn’t belong in the piece--but I could (and did) add it to the “author description.”

Will I get Krakauer’s attention? Stay tuned. I tweeted him the link.

 

http://msmagazine.com/blog/2015/07/07/beyond-missoula-a-challenge-to-feminists-and-to-jon-krakauer/

Beyond Missoula:  A Challenge to Feminists and to Jon Krakauer

Acquaintance rape, the subject of Jon Krakauer’s newest book, Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, is a topic feminists have been writing about for decades with barely a head nod from the mainstream media. Now Krakauer’s book is being hailed as “fascinating,” “excellent,” and “a passionate, maddening jeremiad.”

How should feminists feel about that? Understandably pissed offed that it takes “a mansplainer’s guide to rape-is-bad,” as Jessica Valenti put it, to get so much attention. But we should also be grateful, because Krakauer’s awakening has opened the eyes of his extensive admirers.

Make no mistake, what Krakauer experienced was an awakening. This best-selling author and extraordinary writer was in at least one respect quite ordinary: Like most American men, and many women, he gave no thought whatsoever to acquaintance rape. He was clueless about the trauma it inflicted, unfamiliar with the years of activism and scholarship surrounding the issue, unaware that it affected people he knew and cared about. Fortunately, he’s not proud of that fact.  “My ignorance was inexcusable,” he writes in Missoula, “and I was ashamed.”

So while his is not the first or most comprehensive writing on the subject, Krakauer has put his name and reputation to good service: readers who’ve followed his other bestsellers and trust his reporting and who would never have picked up a book about date rape are reading Missoula.

Here’s what they’re learning from this compelling account: Acquaintance rape is commonplace, deeply injurious, vastly misunderstood -- including by those who experience, investigate and prosecute it -- and often perpetrated in serial fashion by men whose crimes remain undetected, even to themselves. The targets of their behavior include men, but are overwhelmingly female.

These lessons emerge as Krakauer shares detailed stories about a number of rapes on the University of Montana campus. He began his inquiry after a 2013 Justice Department investigation found serious problems in the way the police force had handled such cases.  Krakauer relies on interviews and courtroom transcripts and the writings of experts, enriching his book with quotes such as this one from Valenti: “Women don’t get raped because they were drinking or took drugs. Women do not get raped because they weren’t careful enough. Women get raped because someone raped them.”

One of the experts the author introduces readers to is Dr. David Lisak, a clinical psychologist whose methodologically rigorous research debunked the myth that most accusations of acquaintance rape are false. Typically rapes are unreported and unpunished; 90% of time, the rapist gets away with the crime.

Dr. Lisak also helped explain the sometimes confusing behavior of rape survivors. Self-blame “feels better” than living in fear.

If the victim decides to press charges, she’s at the mercy of people typically untrained in the brain and social science research laid out by Dr. Lisak. Assumptions that women are lying or disturbed aren’t the only problem. Krakauer points out that our society has encouraged men to feel entitled to sex. The problem is exacerbated when the accused is a football player or other athlete adored by fans and empowered by a hero culture.

Those in a position to evaluate the situation often point to the harm caused to the reputation of the accused – oblivious to the harm to the victim. As one woman in Krakauer’s book put it, “I don’t get to go to a review board and ask them to reduce the pain I feel daily; or take away the flashbacks, nightmares, or anxiety; or restore my sense of safety and security, or my trust in people.”

Most chilling is the fact that the rapists Krakauer describes, for the most part, do not see that they have done anything wrong. The author puts that in context by sharing Lisak’s study on “undetected rapists.” Lisak and other researchers surveyed a random sample of 1,882 men who were students at U Mass Boston in the 1990s. All participated voluntarily; the researchers never used the word “rape.” Instead they asked objective questions such as:  “Have you ever had sexual intercourse with someone, even though they did not want to, because they were too intoxicated … to resist your sexual advances (e.g., removing their clothes)?” The researchers conducted follow-up interviews with those who answered “yes.”

In all, 120, or 6.4%, of the subjects, were identified as rapists. Nearly two-thirds of those were repeat offenders; together they were responsible for at least 439 rapes.  Most participants regarded themselves as nice guys.

All this insight and more is packed into Missoula. What moved Krakauer to write the book was learning that someone he and his wife knew well had been raped by an acquaintance as a teen and again a few years later by a family friend. The more he read and talked about the subject, the more Krakauer was “stunned” to discover others among his family and friends had been subjected to this crime.  He wants Missoula to help change this reality.

Books are important. So are the reforms Krakauer calls for – better training for those who handle complaints and investigate and prosecute these cases, more support for survivors to speak out and heal. But what wins those changes is the activism feminists have been waging for a very long time, spearheaded today by groups like Know Your IX, a Long Walk Home, Hollaback, and many others. This is one area Krakauer largely overlooks.

Most of these groups run on a shoestring budget. Financial support from Krakauer and calls for others to do the same would be a great addendum to his book.

  

Ellen Bravo’s novel on date rape and Beltway politics, Again and Again, will be published by She Writes Press this August. She will donate 20 percent of net profits to the work of groups fighting against sexual assault.

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Comments
  • Ruth Feiertag

    Cate,

    I admire you and all the women here who have spoken up and are living with intolerable memories and experiences. You are phenomenal exemplars.

    I do not know one women who has not been subjected to some kind of sexual discrimination, harassment, or assault. Cate, you couldn't be more right when you wrote "I believe part of how we'll change not only this twisted form of devaluing and keeping women down, but ALL forms, is to actively choose to raise our males differently." We need current fathers on board with these changes too. We need dads to give our sons dolls for which to care, to stay at home as much as we do, to model truly respectful behaviour at home. Even when our male significant others treat us decently, if they talk about their female co-workers disdainfully, our kids get the message that women are lesser beings. 

    Remember "Free to Be You and Me"? I was sad that it was still relevant for my (now-grown) children and I think it will be for their children (should they have any) too.

    Ruth

  • Charlene Diane Jones

    Yes. And our mothers were raped, were suppressed into being active recruits in the rape and suppression of their daughters...it is lineage, our lineage, our human lineage and everyone is needed in the call to waking up! Let's not leave anyone behind this time!

  • Charlene Diane Jones

    I'm so sorry to learn of this betrayal by your mother and assault by others, Cate. my heart to yours! 

  • Ruth Feiertag

    Kelly,

    Brilliant suggestion. I just left my comment.

    Ruth

  • There are so many heartfelt and eloquent comments on this blog.  May I suggest that each of you clicks through to Ms.' web site and leave a comment on Ellen's column?  I know from my own newspaper column that editors pay attention to writers with an active following.  Also, I "shared" this column on my FB page, hash-tagging #JonKrakauer.  His emotional and intellectual "journey" is one all men -- and women -- need to take!

    Here's a column I wrote 2 weeks ago called "Redefining Rape" about California's new "Yes Means Yes" criterion for investigating rapes on tax-funded college campuses, in case any of you are interested: http://argonautnews.com/living-large-in-limbo-redefining-rape/

    Kelly

  • Ruth Feiertag

    Ellen, 

    Ordered! 

    Ruth

  • Ellen, this is a very eloquent and intelligent example of "piggybacking" on current events to bring your book to the attention of a targeted audience.  I fully understand your balancing act of not being too self-promotional (and I think you handled that brilliantly) -- and I'm proud of you that you didn't back away and totally ignore your own work and worth.  As a writer on this subject, you are an authority!

    I'm looking forward to buying and reading both your book and Krakauer's.  Writing about something as ambiguously defined as rape is difficult.  Years ago, I wrote a piece about being date raped (published in a travel anthology -- of all places! -- Female Nomad & Friends, edited by Rita Golden Gelman) that I read now and recognize my own confusion about whether or not I was really raped.  I've recently published a column in The Argonaut, a weekly newspaper in west Los Angeles that I write for, and am happy to see that my language has sharpened -- just as my thinking has and as society's understanding has.

    Thanks for adding so much to this dialogue.  I appreciate your activism and wish you continued success with your book!  Are you listening, Jon Krakauer???

    Kelly Hayes-Raitt

    Mosey on over to my web site and sign in for your free gift -- an mp3 of me reading my book's first chapter about a beggar in Iraq! ...And a pre-publication discount!




  • Ellen Bravo

    Thanks, Ruth! My book is out! Hope you will order it. Here's link to my website with and my author facebook page with information about my book tour - would love to meet you if you're in any of the places I'm going. Lyn, sorry, I'm not sure how I came to be a Ms. blogger. Do reach out to them! 

  • Ruth Feiertag

    Ellen and everyone,

    What a courageous group. Ellen, your post is remarkable. I hope you get Krakauer's attention. Please let me know when YOUR book is out.

    Ruth

  • The rape/misogyny culture is like the racist culture - pervasive and rarely acknowledged by perpetrators, who make up an uncomfortably substantial portion of the population. And those who stand by and do nothing enable that culture. So at least Krakauer is no longer enabling.

  • Lyn Jensen

    Thanks for your response. What advice do you have to become a MS blogger?  Does the Web site have a submission policy?

  • Ellen Bravo

    I'm one of Ms's bloggers. I submitted it and they published! thanks

  • Lyn Jensen

    How did you get on the Ms magazine blog?  Was the book review assigned or did you submit it to the blog?

  • Charlene Diane Jones

    Totally agree, Jean Roberta about Cosby, as sad as it makes me to know of his sickness. I see us (those of us who've been violated through rape, incest and beatings) as on the edge of a huge wave of human behaviour which up until now (meaning through our lifetimes) was not even challenged. We are the ones who through our courage and intelligence know we have to add to the change in what it means to be human. Humans don't rape. I believe that! I believe that my experience was one drop in a tsunami of change and developing awareness around rape and violence, such that what I experienced is part of history as it is changing. Huge healing!

  • "Walk tall" - delightful phrase, but I often wonder how much "taller" many of us could walk if 1) we had never been raped, and 2) (& this is prob. more important) we hadn't been disbelieved and held responsible for a crime of violence (often at the same time by the same people). Part of what is so encouraging about the recent public airing of the massive amount of testimony against Bill Cosbey is that some of these events go back to 1969! Clearly, the women haven't forgotten, and if there is any justice, the perpetrator won't be able to.  :)

    c

  • Ellen Bravo

    Thanks you all so much for these comments. Hope to meet you on my book tour. Sophie Schiller, I don't see your comment here but got a notice about it. I'm sure Krakauer is very generous to many organizations - just hoping he will also be to the groups working to stop campus sexual assault. If you have any connection to him, please pass on my blog! 

  • Charlene Diane Jones

    What strikes me so frequently around rape is how many of us are raped, and like you Jean Roberta, do walk tall in our lives in spite of it. 

    This, this ability to heal and walk on needs to be declared also, along with the horrors of rape. The capacity women like us have to get up and make our lives work, make our lives count for something...who has done a head count on these numbers? 

  • Well-written! When I was raped by an acquaintance in a major Canadian university in 1971, I arrived at the Emergency entrance of the local hospital soon afterward (due to my suicide attempt). I had bruises and bite marks from the rape, but apparently no one noticed. (I followed up the paper trail many years later.) I was assigned to be "counseled" by a male psychiatrist, who informed me that I hadn't experienced a "real rape." The university administration barred me from staying in my dorm room after my release from the hospital. MANY people heard my account of what happened, and the consensus seemed to be that: 1) I overreacted to "sex," and that 2) I brought it on myself. This issue is so systemic. It's as though armed robbery were almost universally regarded as a symptom of the victims' mental illness.

  • Charlene Diane Jones

    So that room...the one I write about frequently, the one where men stand together and one of them reveals he "took what he wanted" and brags about this. That room? Every man you know has stood in that room. Every man has listened and understood the message that women are to be used this way, every man has felt his own confusion (or lack of) around his own masculinity according to where he fits on the sliding scale of masculinity as defined by violence to women. Krakauer has been there. So has every man in your life. Ask them about it. Ask them deeply and watch their eyes. 

    Oh, and by the way, understand that men lie. They lie to us. They know they lie to us, even the ones who love us lie to us because they really don't want to know how deeply hurt, or deeply upset or deeply whatever we are. They know they have done, said things that hurt us, make all of us look cheap and without value, and they will lie to us. Once you recognize that men lie, the ones who love you can be brought to tell you their truth. Where did I get this information? What horrible cynicism arose in me because of terrible experiences? 

    Well, although I have terrible experiences in my past, the people who told me men lie and all men lie are the two men who love me the most. They have opened up the male culture to me and believe me, it's not what you think it is!

  • Leslie Lehr

    Thank you, Ellen and She writes!

  • susan imhoff bird

    excellent blog post, ellen. I think you graciously made your points and hope you hear from jon krakauer. and not only best of luck with Again and Again, but thank you for speaking up.

  • I loved Krakauer's Into Thin Air but never read any other of his accounts, although interested in Pat Tillman's story and got through about half of the documentary film.  The dirty secret is that college rape has been there for a very long time with the complicit inaction of university administration and alumni, especially where football players are concerned.  Can't wait to read "Again and Again"!