Showing posts with label sexual assault. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sexual assault. Show all posts

Monday, September 7, 2015

Again and Again by Ellen Bravo

Title:   Again and Again
Author: Ellen Bravo
Publisher: She Writes Press
Publication Date: August 11, 2015
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

If sexual shenanigans disqualified candidates for Congress, the U.S. would have no government. But what if the candidate was a pro-choice Republican supported by feminist groups—and a college rapist whose secret could be exposed by a leading women’s rights advocate? 

Again and Again  tells the story of Deborah Borenstein—as an established women’s rights leader in 2010 Washington, DC, and as a college student, thirty years earlier, whose roommate is raped by a fellow student. The perpetrator is now a Senate candidate who has the backing of major feminist groups . . . which puts Deborah in a difficult position. Torn between her past and present, as the race goes on, Deborah finds herself tested as a wife, a mother, a feminist, and a friend

My Review:

After reading several books lately, both fiction and nonfiction, that address the crime of sexual assault, I was intrigued by the release of Ellen Bravo's first novel, Again and Again.  Bravo has other nonfiction works in her repertoire, but this is her first foray into fiction, and with her background in feminism, work/family balance, and other women's issues, I figured this would make for a unique take on the topic.

As expected, Bravo really nailed the handling of date rape as a societal problem.  While her description of the actual rape is harrowing to say the least, I was left especially frustrated while I read about the disciplinary case that the victim brought forth afterwards.  Bravo expertly expresses the despair, grief, and fear of rape victims in the aftermath of an attack, and the many roadblocks they often encounter from the judicial system.  A lot of important points are made about the right and wrong ways to help a victim.  Overall, I think there are few fiction novels that handle this issue in such a realistic and detailed way.

That said, where I feel the novel was lacking is in the relationships between the characters.  While a lot of care was taken in the handling of the rape issue, less meticulous crafting is seen in the development of the bonds between the central characters.  For example, many of them jump wildly between emotions of love/happiness and anger/sadness within a single scene.  This happens a lot between Deborah and her daughter Becca, as well as Deborah and her husband Aaron.  A conversation that begins with hugs and kisses and laughter devolves quickly into screams and slammed doors, often without a provocation that is jarring enough to warrant it.  While the issues these people are grappling with are indeed sensitive, I just didn't always find their reactions to be wholly believable, or to have the level of subtlety that I'd expect in a real-life interaction.

Where this became a real sticking point for me was in Deborah's martial issues with Aaron.  I won't give any spoilers here, but I was left very frustrated by Deborah's inability to accept any blame for their problems.  All of their issues were placed squarely on Aaron's shoulders, and as a result, it seems as if Deborah does not grow at all as a character throughout the book.  She is in the right, always.  Without getting into the details, I thought Aaron's character was certainly wrong on many points, but Deborah was not always completely blameless--and those flaws are never addressed.  This feels like a significant oversight in character development.

I'd say my overall reaction is rather middle-of-the-road.  While I love how Bravo has addressed the personal. societal, and political implications of sexual assault in this novel, I am less impressed by how the characters interacted and changed.  I still think this is an important read if you're interested in the subject matter--you may just need to adjust your expectations of the protagonists.

As always, much thanks to Lisa and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Want to find out more?  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Ellen Bravo on Twitter and her website.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Missoula by Jon Krakauer

Title: Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town
Author: Jon Krakauer
Publisher: Doubleday
Publication Date: April 21, 2015
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads

Missoula, Montana, is a typical college town, with a highly regarded state university, bucolic surroundings, a lively social scene, and an excellent football team   the Grizzlies   with a rabid fan base. 
The Department of Justice investigated 350 sexual assaults reported to the Missoula police between January 2008 and May 2012. Few of these assaults were properly handled by either the university or local authorities. In this, Missoula is also typical. 
A DOJ report released in December of 2014 estimates 110,000 women between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four are raped each year. Krakauer’s devastating narrative of what happened in Missoula makes clear why rape is so prevalent on American campuses, and why rape victims are so reluctant to report assault. 

In  Missoula , Krakauer chronicles the searing experiences of several women in Missoula — the nights when they were raped; their fear and self-doubt in the aftermath; the way they were treated by the police, prosecutors, defense attorneys; the public vilification and private anguish; their bravery in pushing forward and what it cost them.
Some of them went to the police. Some declined to go to the police, or to press charges, but sought redress from the university, which has its own, noncriminal judicial process when a student is accused of rape. In two cases the police agreed to press charges and the district attorney agreed to prosecute. One case led to a conviction; one to an acquittal. Those women courageous enough to press charges or to speak publicly about their experiences were attacked in the media, on Grizzly football fan sites, and/or to their faces. The university expelled three of the accused rapists, but one was reinstated by state officials in a secret proceeding. One district attorney testified for an alleged rapist at his university hearing. She later left the prosecutor’s office and successfully defended the Grizzlies’ star quarterback in his rape trial. The horror of being raped, in each woman’s case, was magnified by the mechanics of the justice system and the reaction of the community.
Krakauer’s dispassionate, carefully documented account of what these women endured cuts through the abstract ideological debate about campus rape. College-age women are not raped because they are promiscuous, or drunk, or send mixed signals, or feel guilty about casual sex, or seek attention. They are the victims of a terrible crime and deserving of compassion from society and fairness from a justice system that is clearly broken.

My Review:

If reading this book doesn't make you angry, you're reading it wrong.

I don't normally include such a long description before my reviews (and I even abridged this one from the full text on Goodreads' site), but I think it's important for readers to understand the full scope of what Krakauer has undertaken in this book.

The basic premise of Missoula, and the statistics it presents regarding the frequency of sexual assault (especially on college campuses), did not surprise me.  I took a class on Family Violence in my last year at UConn (with an outstanding professor who really gave the topic the weight it deserved), and while I obviously had heard of rape and sexual assault before that, the course was my eye-opening experience into the world of rape victims and their attackers.  At the same time that I was taking the course, I was also a Resident Assistant in my dorm, and I had two different residents come to me during that semester to report that they had been sexually assaulted.  It was enough to make my head spin.  Suddenly, the fact that we lived on campus with a path jokingly named "the Rape Trail" (real thing in Storrs, any alumni will tell you), a bar fondly nicknamed "Slutskies", a rumor mill rife with stories about the sexual exploits of various student-athletes/fraternities/ didn't seem so humorous anymore.  Just because I was fortunate enough to not become a victim of these crimes didn't mean that it wasn't going on all around me--often under my nose, as sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes.

This experience was brought back to the forefront of my consciousness in Missoula.  Krakauer admits at the end of the book that he was largely ignorant of the problems surrounding sexual assault (the act itself, as well as the way it is handled by the justice system/media/etc), especially for college-age women, before discovering that a close family friend had been a victim of it not once, but twice.  This compelled him to begin researching the subject more thoroughly, and we all know what happens when Jon Krakauer researches something more thoroughly.

The mishandling of sexual assault cases in Missoula and on the University of Montana came into the spotlight in 2012, when several women came forward to report that they had been raped by UM football players.  As these cases were being investigated, it quickly became evident that there was a larger problem at hand in Missoula, one that extended well off campus.  Krakauer was able to interview many of the victims of these high-profile cases, as well as their families and friends, and even one of the assailants.

Krakauer highlights two legal cases in particular: those of Beau Donaldson and Jordan Johnson, both members of the UM football team.  One of them was found guilty, and the other was acquitted, of sexual assault against fellow UM students.  Krakauer's research breaks down the differences in how these cases were handled, bringing to light many of the biases and problems that the victims had to face in their attempts to find justice.

I had to read this book in bursts, because I was so often angered by what I read.  The actual acts of sexual assault were very difficult to read (definite trigger warning here), though I expected that going in.  What I didn't expect was the anger I would feel in regards to how each case was mishandled, as the police and prosecutors often overlooked important evidence, dismissed victims' statements and concerns, and provided incompetent counsel on legal issues.

While Krakauer's outrage at the rapes themselves is obvious, this book is most impressive in how it illustrates the problems of how the justice system handles sexual assault cases.  The issues begin from the moment a rape is reported--in how the police question victims and make them feel safe (or not).  The problems snowball from there, all the way to the courtroom (if the case even makes it there--it often does not), where victims are made to relive their experiences by vicious defense lawyers who will do anything to make the victims look untrustworthy and promiscuous.

While I expected Krakauer to take particular issue with Jordan Johnson's case (as he was acquitted of rape), I was compelled by the fact that his book does not attack the verdict itself, but rather the way in which it was reached.  Krakauer does not attempt to play judge-and-jury, suggesting that Johnson should be in jail.  What he does do is dismantle the appalling tactics used by the defense throughout the trial, as well as the many problems with how the prosecution moved forward with the victim's case.  The only people who know if Johnson is truly innocent are Johnson and his accuser, but either way, the victim's case was not given fair showing that it deserved.

If you're a fan of Jon Krakauer and/or solid investigative nonfiction, you must read Missoula.  Sexual assault--both the act itself, and the way it is approached in the justice system--is a problem that extends well beyond Missoula and the University of Montana.  Read this, get angry, and get informed.  This is likely one of Krakauer's most controversial books (I hear he's not so welcome in Missoula anymore), but also one of the most significant.

What was the last nonfiction book you read that opened your eyes to a particularly distressing or provocative topic?
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