Three rape victims come forward to expose cover-ups of sexual assault at University of Montana: Bestselling author Jon Krakauer reveals explosive claims in his new book
- Author of ‘Into the Wild’ spoke to five rape victims in Missoula, Montana
- ‘Missoula: Rape and the Justice System In a College Town’ was released April 21
- Three of five victims profiled in the book sat down with ABC’s Nightline Wednesday night
- Kelsey Belnap, Allison Huguet and Hillary McLaughlin said they had been raped by University of Montana football players
- Huguet and McLaughlin’s attacker, Beau Donaldson, pleaded guilty to rape in 2012 and was sentenced to 10 years
- Belnap claimed four players gang-raped her in 2010, but prosecutors never charged them citing lack of probable cause
- Mr Krakauer wrote book after realizing close friend was a rape victim
The small college town of Missoula, Montana, best known for its university and its inhabitants’ fierce love of football, has been branded in the media America’s Rape Capital, and now bestselling author Jon Krakauer has made it the subject of his new book documenting the explosive allegations.
Missoula: Rape and The Justice System in a College Town, a Doubleday publication that was released Tuesday, immediately sparked a fierce debate in Montana and beyond.
Krakauer, the author of the critically acclaimed book Into the Wild, sat down for an interview with ABC’s Nightline, which aired Wednesday night, to discuss his latest project exploring the sensitive subject of campus rape.
Jon Krakauer argued that rape allegations were not unique to the picturesque town nestled in the Rocky Mountains, pointing out that Missoula’s sexual abuse statistics were average, or even slightly below the national average.
‘If this problem could exist in Missoula, it could exist anywhere in the country, and it does.’ he said. ‘Rape is this huge problem, 80 per cent of rapes are unreported.’
In an effort to shed light on the rape epidemic and spark a national conversation, Krakauer had interviewed five alleged victims of rape for his book, among them Kelsey Belnap, who revealed that during her sophomore year at the University of Montana, she was gang-raped by four members of the beloved local Grizzy football team.
Speaking to Nightline, Miss Belnap said on the night of the alleged attack in December 2010, she was playing drinking games at an off-campus party celebrating the end of the finals.
She downed up to 11 shots of 99-proof alcohol within an hour and soon was slipping in and out of consciousness.
‘I don’t remember bits and pieces until I had a penis in my face,’ she recalled.
According to Belnap, she pushed away the first football player who tried to have sex with her and told him she didn’t want to sleep with him, but he forced himself on her, followed by three of his teammates.
At some point, she passed out during the suspected attack. When the sophomore came to, she headed to a hospital and filed a police report. But according to Miss Belnap, investigating officers were far from sympathetic.
‘They made it seem like it was alcohol,’ she said. ‘That it was my fault, that I had drank too much, and if I wouldn’t have drank too much, it wouldn’t have happened.’
Belnap argued that it wasn’t alcohol that crossed a line and ‘stuck a penis’ in her face that night – it was four Grizzly football players.
In the end, Missoula prosecutors ruled that there was no probable cause to charge Belnap’s alleged attackers.
Police and prosecutors said that Belnap had told investigators the men ‘would have likely believed it was consensual sex’ – a claim that was repeated by the players and several witnesses at the party.
Miss Belnap also made a statement to police that she was so drunk that night she did not resist the men’s advances.
The Missoula County attorney argued that the student was not legally incapacitated because she was going in and out of consciousness. Under state law, a victim cannot give consent to sex if he or she is ‘mentally defective or incapacitated.’
After her case was essentially tossed out, Belnap turned to university officials, and there things went a little better for her: one of her alleged attackers was expelled from school, another agreed to leave voluntarily and the other two had dropped out earlier.
Krakauer’s new book also features the story of another young woman, Allison Huguet, who was also raped by a University of Montana football player whom she has known since childhood.
Huguet had left Montana to attend an out-of-state college but returned to Missoula in December 2010 for a party with her long-time friend, Beau Donaldson. Huguet said she had been drinking and was in no condition to drive home that night, so she settled in for the night on the couch.
‘And I woke up to a lot of pain, and a lot of pressure, and the sound of somebody moaning, and quickly realized it was Beau,’ Huguet said. ‘I just shut my eyes and laid there, and that wasn’t, I don’t even think a decision, I consciously made.’
Allison Huguet said after the act, Donaldson got up, pulled up his pants and threw a blanket on her. Once he was out of earshot, she fled the house barefoot and called her mother for help.
As she was on the phone telling her mother Donaldson had raped her, she realized the hulking running back was chasing her.
According to the woman, the Grizzy player begged her not to tell anyone what happened.
After she finally got away from him, Huguet went to a hospital and underwent a rape kit exam, but at first she decided not to get the police involved.
Instead, Huguet and her mother invited Donaldson over to their home and secretly recorded their conversation, which eventually yielded a confession.
At first, Donaldson tried to blame their encounter on alcohol, but eventually he changed his story, saying on the audio recording: ‘It’s something I did and I f***ed up.’
He went on to say that he came close to killing himself the night of the attack.
‘I was curled up on my couch in the carport with my f***ing handgun in my hand. You have no idea,’ he lamented.
Huguet, in turn, made her childhood friend promise her he would get help. In exchange, she said she would not go to the police.
But more than a year later, Huguet learned that Donaldson hadn’t sought counselling like he had promised and contacted the authorities. During an interview with police, the star Grizzy player confessed to the rape.
As she was struggling to push her case forward in the months following Donaldson’s arrest, Huguet discovered that another young woman, Hillary McLaughlin, had accused him of raping her in 2008 but she never reported the attack to police. .
In an interview with Nightline, McLaughlin said she is filled with remorse because she could have possibly prevented the attack on Allison Huguet had she blown the whistle on Donaldson seven years ago.
During Donaldson’s trial, McLaughlin finally shared her story in court, helping seal the defendant’s fate.
In September 2012, Beau Donaldson, the former star of the Grizzlies, pleaded guilty to rape and was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. He will be up for parole in July.
The disturbing news from Missoula prompted the US Department of Justice to launch an investigation into the University of Montana, the local police department and the prosecutor’s office.
The federal probe found that between 2008 and 2012, only 14 of the 85 total rape cases were sent by police to the prosecutor.
Justice Department investigators determined that the Missoula County attorney declined to prosecute nearly every case where drugs or alcohol played a role – even when the rapist had confessed.
A June 2014 agreement ended the investigation, with the county agreeing to implement sweeping changes, including the creation of a special victims unit and the assignment of trained prosecutors to sexual assault cases.
The university itself has created a small sexual assault prevention department last year with a coordinator and three interns, and its athletic department created a new Code of Conduct that addresses sexual assault, according to the Montana Kaimin.
‘Missoula is a much safer place for women now than it was when I first started looking at it in 2012,’ Krakauer said.
Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst on Wednesday held a press conference to address the issues raised by Jon Krakauer’s latest book.
‘While the charges that the author has made against me, my office, my predecessor, are inaccurate, exaggerated, and unnecessarily personal, he is correct. In that our investigation and prosecution standards needed to be improved,’ she stated.
While Mr. Krakauer’s story focuses on Montana, the book’s scope is more global.
Missoula is described as ‘a typical college town’ and Mr. Krakauer’s website said that rape victims are ‘deserving of compassion from society and fairness from a justice system that is clearly broken’.
Mr. Krakauer decided to write the book ‘after learning that a young woman with whom he and his wife have a close relationship suffered intensely in secret for many years after she was raped by a man she trusted,’ according to USA Today.
Sexual assault and rape have become issues at campuses across the country, with victims speaking out against the way that universities dealt with their allegations.
Ninety-four colleges and universities were under investigation by the Department of Justice for their handling of sexual assault cases as of the beginning of this year.
Mr. Krakauer’s book says that it ‘cuts through the abstract ideological debate about campus rape’.
The writer’s other works include Into the Wild, Under the Banner of Heaven and Into Thin Air, for which he was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.