The Man Most Likely to Rape You Is Not a Creepy Stranger Wielding a Deadly Weapon
Eighty-five percent of sexual assaults are committed by an acquaintance of the victim. Friends and family of the assailant almost always insist ‘he’s a nice guy who would never rape anyone.’ This doesn’t make the crime any less horrific for the person he has raped
In 2016, a Stanford University student-athlete named Brock Turner was convicted of felonly sexual assault for raping an unconscious 22-year-old woman next to a dumpster on the Stanford campus. Outrageously, he was sentenced to just six months in jail followed by three years of probation. Even more outrageously, Turner was released from jail after spending a mere 3 months behind bars.
It there was an upside to the Turner scandal, it’s this: The case was widely reported by the news media, and the woman who survived Turner’s act of sexual violence wrote an exceptionally good book about her ordeal, Know My Name, which became a major bestseller. All of which turned a bright light on the ubiquity of sexual violence at American colleges and universities.
No more than 20% of rapes in the U.S. are reported to the police. Less than 5% are ever prosecuted. At most, 3% result in a conviction that includes any jail time for the rapist. Baffled by these disturbing numbers, I spent four years researching and writing a book— Missoula: rape and the justice system in a college town — in order to understand what deters so many rape victims from going to authorities, and to comprehend the repercussions of sexual assault from the perspective of those who have been victimized. Below is an excerpt from Missoula.
When Allison Huguet was five years old her family moved from Kalispell, up near Glacier National Park, to Missoula, where they bought a home in a quiet neighborhood called Target Range at the western edge of the city, near the confluence of the Bitterroot River and the Clark Fork. Huguet enrolled in the first grade at Target Range School, and soon befriended a boy named Beau Donaldson. They remained close buddies for next twelve years.
Huguet and Donaldson graduated together in June 2008 from Big Sky High School, where both of them were good students and outstanding athletes. Huguet, who competed on the track team, was the Montana pole-vault champion their senior year. Donaldson set ten school records on the football field and was honored as the team’s most valuable player. When Donaldson accepted a scholarship to stay in Missoula and play football for the University of Montana Grizzlies, it was deemed sufficiently important to merit an article in the Missoulian, the local newspaper. “I’ve always wanted to play for the Griz,” Donaldson told the paper. He had been recruited by a number of other schools, including Montana State University in Bozeman, archrival of the Griz. It was a big deal in Missoula when he decided to attend UM.
Huguet was proud of Donaldson. “I always thought he was intelligent,” she told me. “I was very happy for him when he got a scholarship. He came from a family where none of them had gone to college; most didn’t even graduate high school.” For her part, Huguet left Montana after high school to attend Eastern Oregon University, where she was offered an athletic scholarship. She saw Donaldson only once or twice after she departed for college.
On September 24, 2010, Huguet was living in Missoula at her mother’s house, and was getting ready to return to La Grande, Oregon, to begin her junior year at EOU. That evening, she received a call from her friend Keely Williams, who suggested they go to a party at Beau Donaldson’s house. Williams had also grown up in the Target Range neighborhood and had known Huguet since Allison arrived in Missoula. After graduating from Big Sky High School in the same class as Huguet and Donaldson, Williams left town to attend Portland State University, and happened to be back for a week to visit her parents. When Williams told Huguet that most of the posse they’d hung out with since they were six years old would be at Donaldson’s party, Huguet enthusiastically agreed they should attend.
Williams drove. Upon arriving at Donaldson’s house around ten in the evening, they were happy to see many of their childhood soul mates. “When we walked downstairs I immediately ran into Beau and hugged him,” Huguet remembered. “It was a nice evening. Everyone was relaxed and having a good time.” People played beer pong in the basement and held “tea races” to determine who could chug bottles of Twisted Tea (a brand of syrupy malt liquor favored by UM students) the fastest.
It was a Friday night, and the Griz football team would be playing Sacramento State University on Saturday afternoon, but Donaldson had suffered a serious ankle injury the previous summer and wouldn’t be suiting up for the game. He was pounding down alcoholic beverages with gusto. Enjoying the company of seldom-seen friends, Huguet and Williams found themselves drinking more than they customarily did, too.
By one-thirty in the morning, the party was running out of steam, and the handful of people still there moved upstairs to the living room. Donaldson and Huguet sat down together on a couch. Huguet, growing sleepy, lay across the couch, put a pillow on Donaldson’s thigh, and placed her head on the pillow. But there was nothing remotely sexual about it, said Huguet and Williams. “Allison never had any interest in that type of relationship with Beau,” Williams insisted. “Absolutely none.”
Another classmate from their Target Range days named Sam Erschler [pseudonym], who lived in the house with Donaldson, urged Williams and Huguet not to drive home because they’d been drinking. “Which was nice of him,” Huguet acknowledged. “That’s how Sam is. Kind of caring like that. He said, ‘Why don’t you guys just stay here and sleep on the couch.’ So we all agreed we would.”
Not long thereafter, Donaldson got up from the couch he was sharing with Huguet, went downstairs, and Huguet fell asleep on the couch alone, fully dressed. Huguet enjoyed sleeping on couches; even when she was home, she often preferred to sleep on the couch instead of her own bed. Williams, meanwhile, went in search of an empty bed, and soon found one. “It was even made!” she said. “I thought, if we have to stay here, this is where I am going to sleep.”
After discovering the vacant bedroom, Williams went back to the living room to invite Huguet to join her. She shook Huguet awake and said, “Ali, do you want to come to bed? I’m sleeping in this room and there is a bed.”
“No, I’m fine” Huguet groggily replied. “I’ll just stay here.” Williams got a blanket and placed it over her friend, then returned to the bedroom. When she left, Huguet was the only person left in the living room. Everyone else in the house seemed to be asleep.
Huguet was awakened about two hours later. It was still dark. She was lying facedown on the couch, and her jeans and underwear had been pulled down. “I remember waking up to Beau moaning, and a lot of pressure and pain,” she later testified. Donaldson was on top of her, penetrating her vagina from behind with his penis. “I opened my eyes, just partly,” she remembered. “Just from his moaning, I could tell it was him.”
Although she was terrified, she forced herself to keep her eyes shut and wait for him to finish.
Huguet is an elite athlete, and she’d taken self-defense classes. She was just five feet, five inches tall, however, and weighed 130 pounds. Donaldson weighed 230 pounds and played both fullback and linebacker for an NCAA Division I football team. She assumed that if he were willing to rape her while she was sleeping, he wouldn’t hesitate to harm her severely in order to keep her from resisting or calling for help. “He could have snapped my neck like a twig,” Huguet told me, “so I just lay there and pretended to be asleep.” Donaldson continued to rape Huguet for another five minutes before ejaculating inside her. He was not wearing a condom.
When he’d finished, he tugged her jeans partly up, threw the blanket over her, and walked away without saying a word. Stunned, Huguet remained motionless until she was sure he was out of the room. Then, quietly, she gathered her shoes and her phone, tiptoed barefoot through the kitchen, exited the house via the back door, and started sprinting down a gravel alley to find help. When Donaldson yanked Huguet’s pants to her knees, he had torn off the button and mangled the zipper, so with one hand she simultaneously cradled her shoes and tried to hold her jeans up, while with her other she speed-dialed her boyfriend, running as fast as she could at the same time.
“I don’t know why I was calling him,” Allison said. “He had moved to Colorado. It’s not like he was going to be able to help. I guess I wasn’t thinking too clearly. I called him twice, but he never answered.”
Still running, Allison dialed her mother next. “When the phone rang,” Beth Huguet told me, “I looked at my clock and it was 4:11 in the morning. There was this throaty sound on the other end of the line. Panicked sounds, with nothing coming out. I knew it was Allison, even without any words. I’ll never forget it. I’ll have that with me the rest of my life.”
“Mom!” Allison eventually managed to blurt as she ran. “He’s chasing me! Help me! Save me! Mom!” Donaldson had somehow seen or heard Allison fleeing from the house, and was pursuing her.
“I’d only been on the phone with my mom for a few seconds when all of a sudden I heard someone behind me, and I realized Beau was chasing me,” Allison said. A few seconds later his hand brushed her back as he grasped at her from behind. “I was literally screaming into the phone, ‘He raped me!’ right when I felt him grabbing at me. My mom was telling me, ‘Run! Keep running!’” Allison knew that Donaldson owned several guns. As she tried to accelerate away from him, she said, “I thought I he was going to kill me. I thought for sure I was dead.”
Running even harder down the alley, and frantically pushing Donaldson’s hands away as he pulled at her, Allison ignored the pain as the gravel cut her bare feet. “I was hitting him as I ran,” she said. “I don’t know if I was actually speaking to him. I was just talking to my mom. And I was worried because the battery in my phone was low and I knew it was about to die.”
Through her own phone, over the sound of Allison sobbing and gasping to catch her breath, Beth could hear Donaldson say, “No, Allison! Stop! Come back! I’m sorry. Don’t say anything. I’ll make it all right. Come back to the house with me!”
“His voice was so calm,” said Beth, a high-school teacher. “That’s the most chilling part of the whole thing: how calm he was. How hysterical she was, and how calm he was. It made my skin crawl.” As she spoke with Allison, Beth Huguet threw on some clothes, got in her van, and started down South Avenue toward the university district at sixty miles an hour, all the while imploring, “Run, Allison! Run!”
And then Beth heard Allison say, “He’s not behind me anymore! Oh my God, he’s not behind me!” For some reason Donaldson had stopped chasing her and turned around.
“I was shocked that Beau actually let me go,” Allison remembered. “I honestly assumed he had a gun and I was going to be shot.”
Even though he was no longer trying to run her down, Allison didn’t stop running.
Beth recalled that Donaldson lived somewhere near the university, but the university district is huge, and Allison didn’t know the address of the house, or even what street it was on. Eventually, however, Allison was able to communicate that she was near the soccer fields, which are located on South Avenue at Higgins, so Beth kept driving in that direction as fast as she dared.
“I was running barefoot, still trying to hold my pants up,” said Allison, “when I turned out of the alley and got onto South Avenue. And there was my mom.” By this point Allison’s phone battery was dead, so she ran into the middle of the road and flagged Beth down.
“As soon as I saw her, I knew something bad had happened,” Beth said. “As she came toward me she was hobbling and kind of falling. When she got in the van she started rocking back and forth, crying hysterically. I flipped a U-turn and headed straight to Community Hospital. I knew she had been assaulted, I just didn’t know to what extent.”
A couple of minutes after they’d turned around and were driving toward the hospital, Allison realized Keely Williams was still back inside Donaldson’s house, sleeping, unaware of the danger she was in. “Keely!” Allison screamed at her mother. “We need to go back and get Keely!” As Beth reversed course and steered the van toward the house, Allison dialed Williams’ number. “Beau just raped me!” she shouted into the phone when Williams answered. “You have to get out! You have to get out right now! My mom and I are outside waiting for you.”
Williams grabbed her purse, put on her shoes, and fled. She was in such a hurry that she slammed her head into the edge of the back door in the dark, giving herself a black eye. “I ran out of the garage and there they were,” she told me. “I jumped in the back of the van. Allison was sitting in the front, hunched over, crying. She wouldn’t turn around. Seeing her like that, I started crying, too, and saying how sorry I was.”
As Williams recounted these events more than two years after the fact, she began to sob. “I felt guilty because I was the one who wanted to go the party and see our friends,” she continued, tears streaming down her cheeks. “I chose to drive, and then I drank too much to drive us home. And I left her on the couch alone, because I wanted to sleep in a bed. If we had just left, or I had made her sleep with me, or I had slept with her on the couch, then it wouldn’t have happened. I know I shouldn’t feel guilty, but I do. How could I have left her out there?”
“You left me out there,” Allison answered, “because neither of us had any reason to think we would be in danger in that house, with those friends. We trusted them completely.”
In order to explain why she felt so guilty about allowing Huguet to sleep alone on the couch, Williams decided to tell Huguet a secret she had shared with only a few other people: Two years earlier, when Williams left Montana to attend Portland State University, she, too, had been raped by an acquaintance.
It happened during Williams’s first week in Oregon, before classes had even started. “It was orientation week,” she remembered. “I hated it. I didn’t do anything. I didn’t make any friends. I didn’t want to be there. I just wanted to sit in my room. I wished I’d never left Missoula.” Then Lewis Ronan [pseudonym], a boy she’d known slightly in high school who was also a student at Portland State, called and invited her to a party at his apartment. “Sweet!” Williams thought. “Someone I know!”
It was a small gathering. When Williams arrived, Ronan’s friends were smoking marijuana with a hookah. Williams began gulping down drinks. “I got really drunk,” she said, “and started throwing up — a lot, from drinking too fast. A girl I didn’t know was hanging out in the bathroom with me, helping take care of me and being nice.” The girl offered to drive Williams back to her dormitory, but she was puking too much to travel anywhere. So Williams remained in Ronan’s bathroom with the girl, resting her chest against the rim of the toilet bowl between paroxysms of vomiting.
As Williams’s retching subsided, the girl repeatedly offered to drive Williams home, but Lewis Ronan intervened each time, insisting, “No, she will just stay here tonight.”
Eventually, Williams agreed to spend the night at Ronan’s, she remembered, “but I was really drunk, so I didn’t really have a choice. And then I passed out. I don’t even remember going to Lewis’s room. But at some point later in the night I woke up in his bed and….” Williams stopped speaking for a moment as she began to cry. “And he was above me, and he was having sex with me,” she continued between sobs. “And then I passed out again. When I woke up the next day I had no idea where I was, or how to get back to the university campus. I told Lewis I needed to get home, because my mom was coming to visit me.”
Ronan didn’t acknowledge that he had done anything wrong, and acted like everything was fine as he drove Williams back to her dorm. “I didn’t really put it together that I had been raped, not at first,” she said. When Williams’s mother arrived, Keely said nothing about what had happened. “I just kept begging her to take me home to Missoula,” she explained through her tears. “I told her, ‘I want to go home. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to go to college. I don’t want to be in Portland.’” Her mother had no idea why Keely was so miserable. “She was like, ‘No. You have to stay. You haven’t even been here a week.’”
Later that day, Keely Williams was made painfully aware that her urinary tract had become inflamed during the forced intercourse that had taken place while she was passed out. Not wanting to tell her mother, she went to a local Safeway and bought cranberry juice and Pyridium to treat the inflammation. “It turned my pee bright orange,” she recalled, “but it numbed my bladder, which helped.” Williams spent most of the next couple of days drinking cranberry juice in bed. Purple bruises spread across her chest where she had pressed against the toilet while throwing up.
Meanwhile, Lewis Ronan began sending text messages to Williams’s phone, indicating he very much wanted to see her again, apparently unaware that she hadn’t found it pleasurable to be raped while unconscious.
“Every time he texted me I just felt nauseous,” Williams remembered. “It made me want to vomit. I did not want him to tell me he wanted to hang out with me or ask me why I didn’t want to talk to him. I wasn’t consciously thinking, ‘This guy raped me,’ because at the time, I didn’t understand that if you don’t actively consent to have sex, it’s rape. I just knew something wasn’t right.”
Eventually it occurred to Williams that maybe Ronan had indeed raped her. “So I looked some things up,” she said, “and realized that’s what had happened. But I still didn’t understand why somebody I knew would do that. Like, maybe I had said something? Or maybe I did something?” Not unlike many other rape victims, Williams’s initial reaction was to wonder if she was somehow to blame.
“By now a little bit of time had passed,” Williams said. “I just wanted it to go away. I didn’t know what I should do, or who I should tell…. I didn’t want anyone to ask me questions about it. I didn’t want to talk about it. I knew that if I told someone who was really close to me, that they would worry, and ask me questions, and would want me to do something about it, and I didn’t want to deal with any of that. So I told this ex-boyfriend that I thought I had been raped.”
The ex-boyfriend didn’t believe Keely and became angry. He told her, “You’re just being a slut. You’re fucking other guys, and you’re trying to cover that up by saying you were raped.”
Two years after Lewis Ronan raped Keely Williams, when Beau Donaldson raped Allison Huguet in September 2010, the trauma Williams had experienced came rushing back to the surface. It was all too easy for her to imagine what Huguet was going through as she was curled into a ball, sobbing uncontrollably, in the front seat of her mother’s van. “I wanted to absorb all of your pain,” Williams told Huguet. “I wanted to hurt for you so you wouldn’t have to deal with what I went through.”
The fact that Williams empathized intensely with Huguet could not, and did not, mitigate Huguet’s pain, however. Huguet had been raped, and sooner or later she was going to have to come grips with it. So she and Williams discussed how she might begin to do that.
“I didn’t feel like I was strong enough to go to the police,” Huguet said, “or even tell my dad about it.” She really wanted Donaldson to acknowledge what he had done to her, though. She and Williams decided Huguet would ask Donaldson’s friend Sam Ershler to tell Donaldson that he needed to come to Huguet’s house and apologize, and that if he refused, she was going to report him to the police.
Williams convinced Huguet that if Donaldson agreed to meet with her, she should surreptitiously make an audio recording of his apology. Williams was majoring in criminal justice at Portland State University, and knew that according to Montana’s stringent privacy laws, it is illegal to record a conversation unless all parties have been informed that they are being recorded. But even though it would be inadmissible in court, Williams argued to Huguet, “You have to make a recording. Because you don’t know if he will ever admit to this again.”
Huguet agreed. “I had no desire to talk to Beau,” she said. “And at that point I had no intention of reporting him to the police. But Beau didn’t know that. Threatening to go to the police was the only way I thought I had any power to make him acknowledge what he did. And if I ever did decide to go to the police, or tell anyone else about what happened, I did not want to have to fight about whether Beau really raped me or not. I wanted to be able to prove it.” So that afternoon, Huguet went to Radio Shack with her mother and bought a digital recorder for forty-five dollars.
This piece was adapted from Missoula: Rape and the justice system in a college town