I became a bit obsessed with the topic of college rape following the gang rape allegations against several football players at the U of Minnesota. So when my friend Amy told me she just finished the book “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town” I knew I had to read it.
The book is written by Jon Krakauer, who is one of my favorite authors. Many will remember his most popular books “Into the Wild” about a young man who ventured off on a solo trek to his untimely death and “Into Thin Air” about the perils and joys of climbing Mount Everest. This time Jon tackles the subject of college rape, which is largely considered “non-stranger” rape since most often it happens when the victims know or have been in a social situation with their attacker. This book is based on research on the sexual assaults that occurred in Missoula Montana from 2010 – 2012 and specifically on interviews with victims who pressed charges in 3 high profile cases.
The first rape victim we meet in the book is Allison Huguet. Her story is compelling because her attacker was a family friend, someone she trusted and thought of as a big brother.
Right from the start Allison’s story changed the way I thought about rape. As I read this book I was forming a parenting “talk track” in my mind. The track for my daughters went something like this: “don’t drink when you go to parties, make sure you have a buddy and never separate from them, and never go home with a stranger.” With the exception of the drinking, Allison did all of these things and was still assaulted in her sleep and raped. Clearly, my talk track needs to be revised.
As I read the book I realized that with rape, unlike other crimes, the victim is held to a very high standard to “prove” they have been assaulted. In what other crime do you have to be sure to document that you were harmed? My talk track now goes like this: “Girls, you need to go to the police right away, also make sure you have physical evidence. Please, no showering! Also remember to scratch them so as to keep the dna in your fingernails.”
Allison actually called her mother immediately following the attack, went to the police and later that day got a tape recorded confession from her attacker. She had a very good case against her attacker and this led to his conviction but most rapes are not this way. According to the book 80% are not even reported and even if reported most are not prosecuted because of the difficulty to prove that the sex was not consensual. And often times the victim blames herself for getting into a questionable situation.
As I thought more about these crimes I realized I did not want to leave my son out of the conversation.Following the U of M football story I had a long talk with him about his college experiences. We talked about drinking, consent and what he should do if he came across a girl in distress.
It’s hard to know what the right parenting “talk track” is for date rape. For my kids, here is my new talk track:
- Avoid alcohol, especially shots. Theres’s nothing sexy about being drunk.
- Look out for each other, men and women please look out for other men and women. If something seems wrong it probably is. And better safe than sorry.
- Protect your reputation.
I highly recommend this book for parents of teenagers and young adults. Create your own talk track and have the conversation with them. Let’s address this problem starting in our own homes.