MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — A Missoula audience gave the best-selling author of a book about the city’s mishandling of rape cases a standing ovation Wednesday and then booed a heckler who had elbowed his way to the stage and called Jon Krakauer a liar.
Krakauer is the author of the new book “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town,” which is No. 4 on the New York Times’ hardcover nonfiction best-seller list. The book uses the stories of several women from the University of Montana to illustrate the problems faced by rape victims nationwide in persuading police and prosecutors to pursue their cases.
Krakauer previously said he wasn’t planning a tour or any other public appearances to promote the book, but he wanted to give critics in Missoula the chance to confront him. Instead, he received an enthusiastic welcome and applause throughout his interview with University of Montana Journalism School Dean Larry Abramson before a standing-room only crowd of more than 550 people.
That warmth was shattered when a man who identified himself as Missoula attorney Thomas Dove made his way to the front of the room just as the interview ended, called Krakauer a liar, accused him of bias and of breaking the law by citing confidential documents in his book.
The crowd tried to shout down Dove, while a few others disappointed that Krakauer did not take questions from the audience demanded that Dove have his say. Krakauer started to answer Dove’s questions, but eventually became exasperated and walked out of the room as the crowd became more hostile toward Dove.
Dove and another man continued shouting after Krakauer as the crowd dispersed.
Earlier, the best-selling author of “Into the Wild” and “Into Thin Air” said rape is a serious crime that is not taken seriously, and he called on universities to step up their pursuit of rapists on campus.
The criminal justice system has a high legal burden to convict a rapist, and as a result, many offenders end up walking away, he said. Universities have a lower legal threshold to discipline sexual offenders, but they don’t do enough to hold rapists accountable, he said.
“I think the university system across the nation is terrible,” he said.
“Missoula” focuses on several University of Montana women who were assaulted between 2010 and 2012, the same period covered in a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into whether Missoula and university officials mishandled rape reports. The federal inquiry led to reforms in how the university and city respond to sexual assaults.
Critics have denounced Krakauer, the author of the best-selling books “Into Thin Air” and “Into the Wild,” for turning the spotlight on Missoula and accuse him of reopening wounds inflicted by the Justice Department investigation. Others criticize the book as a one-sided account that doesn’t include the voices of the prosecutors he depicts as failing the rape victims.
Krakauer previously told The Associated Press that he did not know what kind of reception to expect in Missoula but that he hoped the forum would “clear the air.”
His focus on the town came after he started following rape cases across the nation, the author said. He decided that the subject could be turned into a book after traveling to Montana to hear the impressive testimony of one of the victims he profiles, he said.
He said he did not expect that the title of the book would create a backlash in Missoula.
“It didn’t seem like this town would be so defensive,” he said. “I don’t regret it. I’m sorry it caused so much turmoil.”
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