cover image Is Rape a Crime? A Memoir, an Investigation, and a Manifesto

Is Rape a Crime? A Memoir, an Investigation, and a Manifesto

Michelle Bowdler. Flatiron, $27.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-25563-1

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. (June)