Like many other American men, author Jon Krakauer said acquaintance rape wasn't really on his radar. That changed when someone close to him said she had been raped by someone she knew and by a family friend. He was stunned.
Now — after spending four years doing research for his new book “Missoula: Rape And The Justice System In A College Town," (including going through the records, transcripts and documents he could access without police cooperation) and hearing victims' stories --- he's embarrassed by how little he knew.
"It's hard for people unless you have been sexually assaulted," Krakauer told NPR in a recent interview. "It's really hard to put yourself in the place of a victim and understand how that — being penetrated in the most private parts of your body by another person — is different than other kinds of trauma. The research shows this. It causes a different kind of reaction."
A Typical College Town
While following a few of the cases in Missoula, Montana, Krakauer came across disturbing story after disturbing story: A young woman raped by her childhood best friend — a Division I linebacker at the University of Montana; another assaulted by four football players after a night drinking; another who had been texting her assailant before the attack.
He found that there were 230 reported rapes in the town. The majority of the accused in those situations walked away: either they "weren't prosecuted or the prosecutions were bungled."
According to Scott Berkowitz, President and Founder of the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), those numbers line up: most assaults (68%) are never reported and 98% of rapists never go to prison (from either no arrests being made or problems occurring during the trial process.)
"There's, unfortunately, problems all the way through the system," Berkowitz told MTV News.
It's not that colleges are particularly dangerous, Berkowitz said, it's just that the demographic of women between 18 and 24 are the most common targets of rapists (with five times the risk of assault).
Missoula isn't an outlier by far; these stories, Krakauer told NPR, are "depressingly typical."
Yet, Berkowitz said, there are still ways young people can get involved in changing this depressing status quo.
"[At RAINN] we've got an action center and if you're in college, [you can] press administration to take [sexual assault] issues seriously," Berkowitz told MTV News.
He also suggested supporting the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA), a bill that would reform the ways college campuses approach sexual assault cases.
A Culture of Distrust
Krakauer's book wasn't supposed to be released until next fall. Yet, after Rolling Stone retracted their story "A Rape On Campus," Krakauer and his publisher felt the book needed to come out sooner.
He told NPR that the Rolling Stone "fiasco" was discouraging for him after working on a story so similar for so long.
"The sad thing is there's a lot of doubters and haters out there who think women lie about rape and, you know, there isn't a problem, and this is ammunition for them," he told NPR. "... my publisher and I decided, in part because of the Rolling Stone mess, that it'd be a good time to show this book..."
It all points to the "mythology out there that women lie about being raped," Krakauer told NPR.
Throughout the book, Krakauer looks at the different ways the law enforcement officials showed their inherent distrust of the women reporting their assaults and how that affects the investigations. Generally, there's an underlying desire to give the accused rapist the benefit of the doubt that goes far beyond "innocent until proven guilty."
In a recorded interview between a detective and an alleged abuser, Krakauer writes that the detective said, "I don't think you did anything wrong. I think that it's torturing you that you're accused of this. I don't think it's a crime."
Berkowitz told MTV News that following the retraction of the Rolling Stone story, it's even more important that the media do their jobs right and give rape victims a "fair shake."
"It's really important that the public sees an accurate portrayal [of these crimes in the media] and that victims are treated fairly," Berkowitz told MTV News. "It's important to enforce as a clear fact that most women do not lie about rape. False reports aren't [as much of a problem] — not coming forward is a bigger problem."
The real numbers say that the percentages of women lying about being raped are incredibly small — between 2 and 10 percent, according to RAINN — and that isn't all that different from the percentages of people lying about other crimes.
The difference, Krakauer says in his book, is that in other crimes victims aren't assumed to be liars.
"You take the victim at their word."