Jon Krakauer, Sexual Assault, and the Justice System

Tonight Jon Krakauer, the author of Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, was at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg.  It was truly an honor to be present to hear him speak about his book and what he learned while researching for the book.

I first read one of the author's books, Under the Banner of Heaven:  A Story of Violent Faith.  It was full of details and I wrote notes in the margins and bent corners on pages to mark passages I wanted to come back to.  The next book of his I read was, Where Men Win Glory:  The Odyssey of Pat Tillman followed by Three Cups of Deceit:  How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way.  I learned so much just by reading his books.

Jon prides himself on his research and approaching each project as a journalist.  But he clarifies he is unable to stay unbiased, especially after all the evidence he collected in Missoula and other sports related cases he checked into.  There was just no way.  

When he began telling people that he was writing this book several people he knew came forward to tell him they were sexually assaulted.  "It reinforced my sense that this is a huge and hugely under reported problem."

I couldn't agree with that statement more.  Since writing and releasing my book Breaking the Chains of Silence, so many people in my family and social circles have come forward to confide in me.  Several mentioning they haven't told anyone else.  For some, it is unsurmountable the shame, guilt, and secrecy their assault is shrouded in.  I think things would be much different if survivors could know they would be believed and supported instead of shamed and silenced once more.

Mr. Krakauer was very specific in the words he chose to describe what happened to the women in his book.  There is no general phrasing to skirt over the image or shift focus.  It is just the cold hard facts.  His wife has not read this book, nor can she.  He "wanted the voices of the victims to come out." 

Sports, celebrity, and entitlement and the way it effects sexual assaults.  The culture of it.  "People, they don't want to believe their heroes are bad guys.  Don't want to believe they're rapists."  Sports stars, celebrities, and plain old entitlement all effect sexual assaults and how the victim is viewed, if they come forward. The perpetrators are masterful at using shame and silence to their advantage.  When it is an acquaintance, the line is even more blurry.

Once a victim comes forward, they have to jump through the next hoop:  authorities.  Cops need to learn to start by listening.  Listen to the survivor tell their story.  Don't start by asking what they were wearing.  The trauma of sexual assault is different than any other kind.  Their memories are more feelings and impressions; smells and tastes.  The trauma essentially changes their brain chemistry.

To combat sexual assault we need to talk openly, and have a discussion.  Serial rapists are good at what they do.  Look at how we treat women who we perceive as victims.  Coaches in the sports culture can make a huge impact.  Peer pressure can work for the better.  Talk with your sons, not just warn your daughters.  The definition and importance of consent.  The absence of no is not consent.  Yes is consent.  

"These serial rapists are predators.  Not a little mistake.  Slap on the wrist time is over.  We need to treat these guys as what they are, and that is predators."

No one wants to deal with this issue, not universities, not governments, not churches, etc.  That helps to play into the rapist's hand, and just perpetuates the cycle of shame and silence.  Education, prevention, and especially talking about it are the steps to bringing this problem into the light.  "Change will never happen unless we do."

"Victims are just treated like dirt in our (court) system."  It is not up to them to press charges.  The prosecutor decides that, and if or when they accept a plea deal.  It is not in the hands of the victim.  The victim doesn't have any constitutional protection, whereas the accused is cocooned in constitutional protection.  "Our system is just not equipped to get justice in sexual assault cases."  The defense attorney gets to smear and shame the victim as much as possible and the victim's life is changed forever.

Mr. Krakauer mentioned Kobe Bryant and his lawyer's smear campaign as well as the Jameis Winston rape case at Florida State University.  The movie, The Hunting Ground, includes more in-depth information on the Winston case.

Title 9 was also brought up, and the importance that if you are a school that receives federal dollars, you need to have equal opportunities for male and females for education programs and activities.  My understanding of it previously was just in the sports area, having equal dollars for female sports.

One of the Universities mentioned watching the live feed, was a school where I know someone was raped on campus at a sports fraternity.  Made my stomach turn to hear the name of the school.  If you are interested in seeing the live replay, you can watch on Pennsylvania Commission For Women's Facebook Page.

Overall, it was a great event at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore.  If you are ever in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania it is a must see place to visit.  Try to plan the trip for a Thursday night when the Almost Uptown Poetry Cartel is there for a great evening of poetry.  No matter what, you'll find a great atmosphere to browse books, drink coffee, or catch a live discussion.