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April 19, 2015

In 'Missoula,' Jon Krakauer investigates acquaintance rape on college campuses

'Into the Wild' author addresses realities and perceptions of rape in college towns

041915_Missoula Jon Krakauer/

In this Sept. 17, 2014, file photo, Colorado-based author Jon Krakauer speaks during an interview, in Denver.

In 2009, President Obama officially designated April Sexual Assault Awareness Month.  With a string of high profile public exposures during his administration -- from the Penn State child abuse scandal and allegations against Bill Cosby to the crimes of Darren Sharper, the 'Rolling Stone' UVA controversy, and several other cases on American college campuses -- the issue has increasingly been given renewed attention with attempts at both understanding and prevention. 

The book focuses on the dynamics of rape and sexual assault in a single Montana town, Missoula, and examines the circumstances of its cases to open a discussion the problem on a societal scale. In an interview for NPR's Weekend Sunday Edition, Krakauer talks about how writing this book challenged his mentality about rape, particularly in light of research proving an overwhelming majority of victims know their attackers and rape allegations are rarely found to be false

I don't mean to single out Missoula: Its rape rate is a little less than the national average; I think its problems with dealing with rape are pretty depressingly typical.
But in any case, it turns out [that in] Missoula, over the course of the four years I looked at, there were 230 rapes in town, most of which either weren't prosecuted or the prosecutions were bungled.

Krakauer's concentration on rapes at college campuses and how their investigations proceed engages the importance of current debates about how accountability at the community level influences the likelihood that victims will come forward with reports. In a changing social and cultural context, where new forms of communication shape and reflect new attitudes, lessons from cases that dominate the spotlight have been in need of contrast with hazards found in more common experience. 

Check out is NPR's interview with Krakauer, and here is an infographic from the CDC's National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.