cover image Rape: Sex, Violence, History

Rape: Sex, Violence, History

Joanna Bourke, . . Shoemaker & Hoard, $30 (565pp) ISBN 978-1-59376-114-1

One in every eight Hollywood movies features “a rape scene,” writes Bourke in the first chapter of this groundbreaking study of sexual violence. While much has been written about rape, notably Susan Brownmiller's pioneering 1975 Against Our Will , it has almost always focused on female victims/survivors. Bourke boldly focuses her study on the rapist: “Why do some people set out to sexually humiliate and torture others?” Bourke (An Intimate History of Killing ), a professor of history at Birkbeck College in London, effectively synthesizes an enormous amount of material—from sentencing rates for rape to historical records—across a wide range of topics: the history of laws relating to sexual psychopathology in the United States and Britain; how military culture influences discussions of sexual assault; the legal and cultural differences between indecent exposure and exhibitionism. Bourke delineates the effect of popular culture on the public discourse about rape—including the politics of blaming popular culture for the sexual abuses at Abu Ghraib—and adds significantly to that discussion. In her final chapter, Bourke radically revises aspects of contemporary feminist thought. In this provocative, well-argued exploration, she constructs a theory of sexual violence with an emphasis on female bodily integrity, yet does not fall into easy gender categorization such as accusing all men of sexual aggression. (Nov.)