Book Club: Missoula – Rape and the Justice System in a College Town

MissoulaGuided by his own experience as a mountaineer, Jon Krakauer first made a name for himself with a handful of books about risk-taking athletes and adventurers: Eiger Dreams, Into the Wild, and Into Thin Air. A blurb inside the last edition of Where Men Win Glory, his book about Arizona’s own Pat Tillman, aptly described him as “at home when it comes to writing about elusive alpha males.”

Krakauer’s latest book is a dramatic departure from that vein of writing, a study not of a lone wolf facing the elements but of a whole community facing its own controversies. Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town (Doubleday, 2015) is Krakauer’s investigation of a spate of rape allegations that shook the University of Montana and the town of Missoula from 2010 to 2012.


Missoula resulted from the author’s quest to become more informed about a crime that is both common and swept under the carpet.


Many of the assaults during that time involved members of UM’s Grizzly football team. As a consequence, the victims who came forward faced not only the normal challenges of pressing charges, such as revisiting their traumas in front of police and courts, but also the anger of local football fans who were convinced of their star players’ innocence. The fierce loyalty of the Grizzlies’ supporters, it seemed, fueled a greater sense of entitlement than accountability among team members.

As the story developed, Krakauer explains, Missoula entered the national spotlight in the pages of major newspapers like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, but it was a viral article on the website Jezebel, “My Weekend in America’s So-Called ‘Rape Capital,'” that captured the town’s newfound notoriety in an epithet that Missoula couldn’t shake. Continue reading

The Peace Corps Equity Act: A Step Forward in Expanding Abortion Access

Peace Corps AfricaLast month, President Obama signed into law the new budget for 2015, which includes coverage for Peace Corps volunteers who need abortions in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment. Why is this news item a big deal? Because 63 percent of Peace Corps volunteers are women, a first-trimester abortion costs more than a Peace Corps volunteer makes in a month, and sexual assault is a risk for Peace Corps volunteers. Of course, abortion and sexual assault are difficult subjects, and when you put them both together and remind the public that, until now, Peace Corps volunteers who became pregnant as a result of sexual assault while on the job were subjected to undue financial burdens on top of everything else, you might see a lot of criticism of the Peace Corps. And, for returned Peace Corps volunteers, that criticism might sting.


The Peace Corps Equity Act represents an important step forward.


As a returned Peace Corps volunteer, I have a hard time writing this piece. I feel like I am airing our dirty laundry.

In my experience, most people are unfamiliar with the Peace Corps. And when all that makes the news is that the Peace Corps “fails” its female volunteers with respect to abortion and sexual assault, it’s hard for those of us who know and love the Peace Corps to talk openly about these issues.

The Peace Corps, however, has failed no one — they have had their hands tied by rules put into place decades ago by our government. The Helms Amendment prohibits the use of U.S. funds to pay for foreign abortions, including those of Peace Corps volunteers. The first time I ever heard about it was during training, when we were told that it meant we could not discuss abortion with locals or counsel around abortion as an option. Continue reading

Bye, Bye, Bystander! It’s on Us

The following guest post comes to us via Kate Thomas, community sexuality educator for Planned Parenthood Arizona. Kate has her master’s degree in public health from the University of Arizona and a passion for ensuring that people of all ages have access to the information, resources, and support they need to be sexually healthy.

it is on usIn October, the It’s on Us campaign launched a PSA about stopping sexual assault. In it, a guy at a party gets up to help when a girl who has been drinking is being harassed and grabbed by a male party-goer. The voiceover (provided by the amazing Jon Hamm) says, “This isn’t a PSA about a sexual assault. It’s about being the guy who stops it.”

You may have heard a lot about “bystander interventions” in the media coverage about how to prevent sexual assault. But not everyone knows what this term means. A bystander is someone who just stands by as something happens. They see something bad is happening, but do nothing to stop it. However, “bystander interventions” encourage individuals to intervene in situations instead of standing idly by.

Most of the time, it’s easy to intervene and prevent sexual assault. But not everyone takes that intervention in the best way. You could be told to back off, get called mean names, or even be threatened. That’s why it’s important to have others help you intervene if it isn’t safe to intervene on your own.

I have a lot of personal experience with bystander interventions.  Continue reading

The Golden Rule of Consent … Ask

The following guest post comes to us via Erin Callinan, who is the training and technical assistance manager at the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence.

holding handsWhen we look at the issue of sexual violence and prevention, we cannot do so without talking about consent. But what does that actually mean? What does consent look and sound like? Ultimately, yes means yes!

Consent works best centered in communication in words; words in whatever language everyone involved can use and understand. Consent means that an agreement has been made between individuals prior to any sexual activity that clearly communicates what each person is comfortable doing.

Obtaining consent is an ongoing process of mutual communication as sexual activity progresses, regardless of who initiates it. So once somebody consents, are you good to go? Not necessarily. Because consent is a continuous process, it’s a good idea to keep checking in with your partner. Continue reading

The State of Girls in the World: International Day of the Girl Child

Content note: This article discusses sexual assault and violence against women and girls.

afghan girlOctober 11, 2014 will be the third International Day of the Girl Child. UNICEF began this day in 2012, a day that focused on the issue of child marriage. Last year, the subject was education for girls. This year the theme is Empowering Adolescent Girls: Ending the Cycle of Violence.

I am excited that violence is this year’s focus. When I worked in another state as a child therapist in an inner-city neighborhood, I once had a 14-year-old girl bring in two friends for her session. She and another girl around her age wanted me to talk to their 11-year-old friend, who was thinking about having sex with her older boyfriend. The boyfriend was insisting on it. The older girls agreed with the general idea that “spreading your legs” (in their words) is part of having a boyfriend, but were worried that their friend was too young. Though they could not see any coercion in their own lives, even they could tell that in their 11-year-old friend’s case, something was wrong. At one point I asked them, “Do you enjoy it?” All three looked at me as if I were talking a foreign language. The idea that sex could be pleasurable had never occurred to them.


We need to work to prevent violence against girls where it begins — with the perpetrators and their enablers.


These girls were not alone, and although they reflected a particular cultural setting, partner violence is not unusual anywhere. According to the United Nations, one in three women worldwide experiences partner violence, many of them as children and teens. The statistics in this article include countries where teenage girls are often married, and in several countries the proportion exceeds 50 percent.

Violence against girls is often considered acceptable where the social structure gives men dominance over women. Practices like female genital mutilation, which is often strongly supported and facilitated by the women of a culture group, reinforce violence as a social norm. Female genital mutilation is restricted to a group of northern African countries as well as Iraq and Yemen, but the practice has been carried by immigrants into Western countries, including our own. While the practice was made illegal in the United States in 1996, the law was not amended until 2012 to include transporting girls abroad to have the procedure done; this was done as a provision of the Defense Authorization Act that year. Continue reading

When It Happens to a Friend

April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.

You probably know someone who’s been a victim of sexual assault.

It’s an unsettling thought, yes, but the statistics bear it out. Somewhere between 17 and 28 percent of women* have been victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. According to those same sources, the numbers range from 3 to 17 percent for men.* They increase further for members of particular populations or communities, including Native American and Alaskan women; gay, lesbian, and queer folk; people with disabilities; and trans* people.


There are many ways you can support a friend who has been sexually assaulted.


Nearly every victim, every survivor, has a first person they tell — someone they confide in to help make sense of what happened, to help begin the healing process. Unfortunately, I know too well that sometimes the first person told only compounds the hurt. So I’m writing this based on what I wish people had done for me.

How should you respond if a sexual assault survivor reaches out to you?

Believe the survivor. We live in a culture that regularly disbelieves, minimizes, and judges victims of sexual assault. Additionally, there’s a strong chance that the victim knew the attacker before the assault — and a reasonable chance that both are members of a mutual social circle or community. In this light, it can be incredibly stressful for a survivor to speak up about an assault. Simply telling that person, “I believe you,” can offer immense support and relief.

Don’t second guess the decisions a survivor made before the assault or the reactions your friend experienced during or afterward. Continue reading

Where Disproportionate Need Meets Unequal Access: Plan B in Native American Communities

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When President Obama signed the Tribal Law and Order Act into law two years ago, it was a long overdue step to improve public safety in Native American communities — in particular among Native American women. Department of Justice data show that Native American women are more than two-and-a-half times as likely as other women in the United States to be sexually assaulted or raped. Another statistic that sets Native American women apart from other women in the United States is the likelihood that their victimizers will be non-Native men. While other women are usually attacked by men of the same race, 86 percent of reported sexual assaults against Native American women are perpetrated by non-Native men.


Most Native Americans depend on the Indian Health Service for health care; most IHS pharmacies don’t provide emergency contraception.


The feeling that this violence is inevitable is common to many Native American women, a feeling that some have attributed to the history of military outposts on Native American lands and sexual abuse in boarding schools. Historical factors aside, a contemporary jurisdictional dead zone has enabled the problem to persist. Tribal police on Native American reservations don’t have the authority to arrest or detain non-Native suspects. Those suspects fall under federal jurisdiction, but federal marshals are too small in number and too committed to other responsibilities to provide community policing on reservations. The situation of virtual amnesty for non-Native perpetrators has created a scourge that some have dubbed “rape tourism.”

The Tribal Law and Order Act was enacted to prevent victims of sexual violence from falling through the cracks by improving investigation and prosecution of sex crimes. A New York Times article from earlier this year reported that only 13 percent of the sexual assaults reported by Native American women lead to arrests, compared to 35 percent of those reported by black women and 32 percent of those reported by white women. The improvements that the Tribal Law and Order Act promises cannot come soon enough. Continue reading