Whenever I read nonfiction, I have to keep a stack of flags nearby. I always find passages that I want to blog about, or quotes I want to remember, or articles for further reading I want to find online. Reading Missoula by Jon Krakauer was no different.
I started this book August 8 and finished it two days later—it was suggested material for professional development for End of the Innocence (the nonprofit for which I serve on the board). This book covered several cases with which I was unfamiliar, yet the survivors’ stories were all too familiar to my own.
Missoula details the legal proceedings surrounding several mishandled rape cases in Missoula, Montana in 2010-2012. In these cases, the perpetrator was a different football player (or multiple football players) at the University of Montana, and the victims ranged from their friends to barely acquaintances. Every case failed to carry justice for the survivor for reasons including a claim of insufficient evidence or a failure to prove the accused’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, as well as prosecutorial failure to file charges, despite overwhelming evidence.
As I read the survivors’ stories and perpetrators’ excuses, I felt myself experiencing a range of emotions and mild triggers. Krakauer details the assaults and the survivors’ healing vividly, which creates for a page-turning read. The first rape in the book—of which Allison Huguet survived—mirrored circumstances surrounding one of the assaults in my story, in the sense that she was raped by a long-time friend. I flagged many of Allison’s statements in the book, finding that I was comforted by her words.
“I understand that I just didn’t want to acknowledge what Beau did to me. Because if I did acknowledge it, I would have to deal with it, and it would become real. Your mind is pretty good at blocking out traumatic experiences and preventing you from thinking about them. At least until something comes along to trigger you.”Missoula by Jon Krakauer, p. 31
Every time I read a survivor’s words, I feel my community around me—the #MeToo community. I remember that I’m not alone, and while the violence we survived oftentimes varies, our healing journeys usually mirror each other in some way. And even though I’ve never met Allison, I feel connected to her, the feeling of betrayal by someone we each knew and loved unique to each of us, yet so similar.
When I was a senior in high school, I managed to escape my prom date’s attempt to rape me—first when he settled himself abruptly on top of me in a parked car, then by coercion, despite my declination of his advance. We’d been friends for several years; I thought I could trust him.
Allison eventually filed a police report against the man who raped her, which led to a trial and conviction. In the end, however, his sentence was light, and he was released on parole in 2016. He served less than five years for raping Allsion, despite his guilty plea and recorded confession. (He was later arrested again for a parole violation.)
I didn’t receive justice for what happened to me because I was discouraged from filing a police report. However, that isn’t what I believe connects Allision and I. In the most ordinary of circumstances, we were both with a man we trusted—we had no reason to be especially guarded. Nonetheless, the man we trusted sought to take advantage of us. It’s that betrayal that connects us.
Later in Missoula, Krakauer quotes Allison again:
Allison Huguet said, “As we grow up, we are taught to stay away from strangers and creepy people in the alleyways,…and not to go anywhere without someone you trust. [But] what happens when it’s the person you trust who rapes you?…I’m tired of living in this hell.”Missoula by Jon Krakauer, p. 344
“What happens?” is the question I’ve asked myself for several years. In part, it’s why I’ve struggled to break my silence, to make an official #MeToo statement online for so long. I was taught for so long to expect sexual violence to fit into a certain box, and even though I knew I’d survived an act of violence wrought against me by someone I trusted, I wondered, Who will believe me?
How do we speak up when what we’re trying to describe—the thing we’re dealing with—isn’t what we’ve been taught to expect it to be?
As I read Missoula, while each survivor’s story and journey for justice captivated me, it was Allison’s story that resonated most profoundly with me. I found myself flagging so many of her quotes, taking note of her courage and wisdom, finding inspiration and healing in her words. It never ceases to amaze me how a book can be somewhat triggering and yet more so healing, and that even through some of those triggered moments, I can still heal in a new way.
Like Allison, I didn’t want to acknowledge what happened to me—and I still don’t always want to acknowledge what’s happening to me now in the present because of what I survived in the past. Dealing with the events that caused me so much pain years ago, the trauma I still carry the ripple effects of today, is an exhausting process. And my brain has had a lifetime of working to protect me from thinking about that trauma, until I encounter something new that forces me to face it: a trigger.
I’ve realized that if I continue to avoid or run from the things that trigger me, I’ll always remain guarded, waiting for the next trigger…because there’s always a next trigger. Now, though, I’ve decided to make a concerted effort to stand firm and let the triggers come. I already survived the trauma—I am strong enough to face the memories of it.
Reading Missoula taught me that trigged states may not necessarily be something I should only ever try to avoid; rather, by confronting the things that intimidate me, I am able to identify the source of that intimidate and emerge from the triggered state stronger. And I’ll always remember the book—and all the flagged passages—that helped me find a new degree of my own strength, too.
Thank you, Jon Krakauer, for writing this book. And thank you, Allison Huguet, for speaking out so boldly, so courageously, and being a shining example for survivors that we, too, can overcome.