Is Rape a Crime?
A Memoir, an Investigation, and a Manifesto
Longlisted for the 2020 National Book Award for Nonfiction
TIME's 100 Must-Read Books of 2020
Publishers Weekly, Best Books of 2020
New York Times New & Noteworthy Audiobooks
Lit Hubs Most Anticipated Books of 2020
Starred Review Publishers Weekly
Starred Review Shelf Awareness
"Is Rape a Crime? is beautifully written and compellingly told. In 2020, we were all looking for solutions and this book was right on time. It is one we should all be reading."
"This standout memoir marks a crucial moment in the discussion of what constitutes a violent crime."
—Publishers Weekly, Best Books of 2020
She Said meets Know My Name in Michelle Bowdler's provocative debut, telling the story of her rape and recovery while interrogating why one of society's most serious crimes goes largely uninvestigated.
The crime of rape sizzles like a lightning strike. It pounces, flattens, destroys. A person stands whole, and in a moment of unexpected violence, that life, that body is gone.
Award-winning writer and public health executive Michelle Bowdler's memoir indicts how sexual violence has been addressed for decades in our society, asking whether rape is a crime given that it is the least reported major felony, least successfully prosecuted, and fewer than 3% of reported rapes result in conviction. Cases are closed before they are investigated and DNA evidence sits for years untested and disregarded
Rape in this country is not treated as a crime of brutal violence but as a parlor game of he said / she said. It might be laughable if it didn’t work so much of the time.
Given all this, it seems fair to ask whether rape is actually a crime.
In 1984, the Boston Sexual Assault Unit was formed as a result of a series of break-ins and rapes that terrorized the city, of which Michelle’s own horrific rape was the last. Twenty years later, after a career of working with victims like herself, Michelle decides to find out what happened to her case and why she never heard from the police again after one brief interview.
Is Rape a Crime? is an expert blend of memoir and cultural investigation, and Michelle's story is a rallying cry to reclaim our power and right our world.
The argument that fuels social justice advocate Bowdler's provocative debut lies in its title: American society doesn't regard rape seriously, as evinced by its few investigations, scant prosecutions, and minuscule conviction rates. In 1984, at age 24, Bowdler was raped in her Boston apartment by two men during a break-in. As hospital nurses collected evidence, she came to grasp that "it will be my lifelong torment. I can never again be a person who does not have this story chasing me." Police insensitivity traumatized her further, stunting her career, and personal relationships for years. In 1993 she earned a Masters in Public Health from Harvard and later took a university position helping students to report sexual assault. Spurred to advocacy by a 2007 Boston Globe article exposing thousands of unexamined rape kits at a state crime lab, she eventually learned detectives never investigated her case and lost her kit: "My frame shifted slowly... Why had I believed solving' my attack would lead to individual healing, and what is the value of personal justice if not tied to systemic change?" Rape cases, she argues, are low-priority for police because they're less likely to be solved, but by prioritizing investigating over solving, victims will feel seen, heard, and validated, and more perpetrators will be caught. Exhaustive research adds veracity to Bowdler's powerful account of rape's devastating aftermath. This is a brilliant study of how society views rape.