This week delivered another hit to a tender spot when NationalPublic Radio published an interview with bestselling author Jon Krakauer, who is well-renowned for his investigative storytelling.
Mr. Krakauer has just released another book, Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, detailing the prevalence of sexual assault at the University of Montana, less than three hours from where I live. In a massive state like this one, that’s basically next door, but it’s also a world away.
As more people are waking up to the reality that rape victims everywhere receive silence and shame while attackers go free, the book is timely. Even Krakauer admits that the publication date was pushed forward in response to the blow-up over Rolling Stone’s botched expose' on an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia.
The interview is honest and open about Krakauer’s previous indifference and ignorance about how close rape hit home in his own life. He admits wondering why, in his 20s, a girlfriend couldn’t just “get over” a rape, and he also confesses being completely unaware how many women he knows personally who have come forward to tell him that they were raped.
Emotionally, I am ripped in two by this book, its promotion, Krakauer’s words, and the eddy of denial around the issue of rape.
Krakauer deserves appreciation for having the insight and fortitude to take on this issue. Often, women find it easier to stay silent about sexual assault because they will not be believed and their story, if ever told, will be filleted and dissected, along with their reputation.
After all that trauma, statistics say that the rapist will walk free. Even worse, he (yes, rapists are overwhelmingly men) will probably be surrounded by supporters ready to do battle against the accusations.
While I can see that that the arc of history is slowly bending toward justice , there is much about this process that stinks. And it all rests on one question:
When are we going to let women tell their own stories about rape — and believe them?
Whose Story Is It?
With this book launch, we have another opportunity to talk about the facts, figures and details about rape, but they are being managed by a white male and a power structure (the publisher). We hear how hard it is for victims to be taken seriously, how prevalent abuse is, how justice is rarely served, and how lives are silently crushed by some men who forcibly take what isn’t theirs.
But the women who actually survived--where are they?
Feeling their absence, sirens that go off in my head when I read quotes like this:
“The sad thing is there's a lot of doubters and haters out there who think women lie about rape…”
“You know, the book is — it's sort of a really close look about what it's like to be the victim of a rape: the pain you go through and the obstacles you have to achieve any kind of justice.”
“But it's hard for people unless you have been sexually assaulted. 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.”
Let me pose a very practical question.
Why on earth is he doing the explaining?
Krakauer has never been raped. He has not lived his life as every female in America has, being cautious in public and in even our homes, never knowing if the nice guy talking to us is a truly nice guy or a sociopath calculating a new mark.
Krakauer has no idea what it’s like to have to fake your way through a conversation, being careful not to piss off a guy who could follow you out of the room, slash your tires or worse.
And then blame you for leading him on.
Or dressing too provocatively.
Or not guarding your drink.
Or drinking too much.
Or being alone at night.
But this is not Jon Krakauer’s reality.
His role within the current structure now is to spend weeks on a book tour answering questions about the investigation, his writing process, his other successful books, and how writing this book has impacted his life.
Now he’s a national expert in high demand on a topic he’s never experienced, telling us stories and facts that girls and women of all colors have been repeating for years.
I get it, I get it.
He’s raising awareness on a controversial issue and taking the side of the victims, so I should be grateful and eager for another ally on the road to justice.
Then I read quotes like this, and I see the marketing and calculations woven through this process.
"Five hundred thousand copies [the first printing of Missoula] is a large run – it can go higher for John Grisham or a book by an ex-president," [Garth] Whitson [of Missoula bookstore Shakespeare and Co.] said.
"Releasing advance copies of the book would kill the buzz," said Garth Whitson, of Shakespeare and Co. "So they won't release the book. It is standard marketing procedure for any hot title."
These stories, this pain, this injustice simply becomes grist for the profit mill. The unwritten rules mean that you hit the hot topic, take what profit you can from it, and move on to the next new thing.
I guess we’re supposed to stay silent about that, too.
Of course, Jon Krakauer isn’t a monster, and I’m relieved that his understanding has expanded.
Of course, the publisher is doing good work in the world by taking on this sensitive topic.
But I can’t stop wishing for a world where women are considered the experts about their own bodies and experiences.
And that they are believed, the first time.