Bowdler, executive director of health & wellness, Tufts University, recounts the gut-wrenching experience of being raped and burgled by two men in Boston in 1984. They broke into her apartment, blindfolded her, repeatedly raped her, and then left her hog-tied with a phone cord. She went to the emergency room and endured an hours-long physical exam that was also traumatizing. That exam produced a rape kit that inexplicably disappeared. From the outset, Bowdler experienced a minimization of her assault from law enforcement. When she followed up with the police, she was ignored by detectives. She internalized this callous dismissal, which made the healing process, already elusive for many sexual assault survivors, all the more difficult. Upon learning, decades later, that thousands of rape kits sat in warehouses untested, she became determined to find out what happened to hers. Much like Emily Winslow's Jane Doe January, Bowdler's quest for justice, while a long shot, helped her to achieve some measure of closure. VERDICT Chanel Miller's Know My Name demonstrated that coming forward to tell one's story is in itself a powerful form of victim advocacy; Bowdler does the same in this affecting account. [See Prepub Alert, 12/9/19.]—Barrie Olmstead, Lewiston P.L., ID
The executive director of Health and Wellness Services at Tufts University tells the intimate, powerful story of how attempting to bring her rapists to justice forged her dedication to activism.
The defining trauma of Bowdler’s life took place in Boston in the summer of 1984, when two men—self-confessed serial burglars—broke into her apartment and robbed and raped her. Even though there was ample evidence at the crime scene and Bowdler dutifully completed a rape kit with police, her case languished in the system. She received no answers from the detective assigned to her case—one of “a spate of break-in and rapes in the greater Boston area” during that summer—forcing her to endure years of personal and professional trauma. It’s exceedingly depressing that so much of this work portrays the author having to undergo the repeated judgment of others, including her family. Sharply encapsulating a victim’s dilemma, she writes, “decisions on whether to report are heavily socially informed—victims worry that the rape will not be considered important, that they will not be safe, that they won’t be believed, that the crime won’t be followed up on, and sometimes they see keeping the perpetrator out of trouble as self-preservation.” Indeed, as Bowdler notes, the “strong, self-assured woman of just a few days [before]” vanished with the rape, replaced by someone filled with shame and self-doubt. Divided into three parts—“A Memoir,” “An Investigation,” and “A Manifesto”—the author moves effectively among the personal and the political. She poignantly explains how watching the 1991 Anita Hill hearings (and witnessing the despicable reactions by male senators and media to her testimony) helped crystallize her activist mission, and she consistently shows herself to be a tireless advocate. Ultimately, she has learned to ask: If rape is considered a crime, why were there no investigations into her own? And when will anything change?
An urgent, necessary, stark exploration of “one of the most horrific violations that can happen to a human being.
National Book Award Longlist
TIME's 100 Must-Read Books of 2020
BookPage Best Books 2020
Publishers Weekly, Best Books of 2020
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Lit Hubs Most Anticipated Books of 2020
Starred Review Publishers Weekly
Starred Review Shelf Awareness
A Boston Globe Best Book of 2020
"Among the horde of books about assault in America, Is Rape a Crime? stands apart. Bowdler’s candid recounting of her own mishandled legal case swells into a stinging indictment of the criminal justice system’s failure to treat sexual violence as a crime."
BookPage, Best Books 2020
"In her stellar, unsettling book, Bowdler, now a public health executive, seeks answersabout why her own case disappeared, but also why America seems so comfortable continuously, systemically failing survivors."
TIME Magazine, The 100 Must-Read Books of 2020
"This standout memoir marks a crucial moment in the discussion of what constitutes a violent crime."
Publishers Weekly, Best Books of 2020
"Urgent...an indictment of one of the most glaring contradictions of the US criminal justice system." The Boston Globe
"Is Rape a Crime? is a unique intervention in the memoir and social justice genres. Bowdler is an uncommonly gifted writer. She is thoughtful even when describing horrible wrongs; lucid and captivating even when describing the sort of psychic pain that typically eludes words."
Moira Donegan, The Guardian
"A brilliant study of how society views rape."
Publishers Weekly, starred review
"A searing condemnation of rape culture that firmly places the onus on law enforcement and legislators to reform broken systems...It will move readers to demand change."
Shelf Awareness, starred review
"Provocative and illuminating...Bowdler’s memoir is a thought-provoking, personal account of violence and its long-lasting ripples."
Laura Chanoux, Booklist
"Intimate, powerful...An urgent, necessary, stark exploration of 'one of the most horrific violations that can happen to a human being.'"
"A damning testimony to the many ways in which our institutions fail survivors of sexual assault. Bowdler turns an investigative eye to her own life, recounting the story of her assault and the reactions by police and the legal system that fell short of what she needed in the aftermath. This account stands alongside her historical analysis of these systems, a criticism of their structure, and her ideas on how our society can better serve survivors. Corinne Segal, LitHub
“A brave, illuminating book that’s difficult to read and impossible to put down.”
"I promise you, this is the most important book you will read this year. With searing clarity and unflinching honesty, Bowdler’s account of her rape and law enforcement’s repeated failure to investigate it, will enrage you, shock you, inspire you, and ultimately change you forever. Bowdler is fighting for all of us, recovering all our storiesthis is indeed our manifesto."
Alison Smith, author of Name All the Animals
"A devastating, necessary, and compelling account of one woman's experience combined with astute analysis of our country's troubling relationship to sexual violence. Bowdler's book should be required reading for all who live here."
Melissa Febos, author of Whip Smart and Abandon Me
"Beyond Michelle Bowdler’s lucid prose, what I find most remarkable here is this: even when the stakes are personally overwhelming and she feels as if she cannot go one step further, Bowdler constantly thinks of othersher roommates, her mother, her wife, her children, and, as she discovers how many rapes go uninvestigated, her fellow survivors. Smack in the middle of a story filled with headlines, the uncanny humanity with which Bowdler tells her story is moving, urgent, and necessary. In this she shows us a way toward repair."
Kenny Fries, award-winning author of In the Province of the Gods
"Is Rape a Crime? filled me with equal parts rage and awe: rage at the grave failures and chronic indifference of our 'justice' system, rage that the question can be asked at all. I am in awe of Michelle Bowdler’s resilience, her activism, and the devastating matter-of-factness with which she tells her story and makes her case. This book is a must-read for every human."
Christopher Castellani, bestselling author of Leading Men
"Michelle Bowdler’s memoir is a powerful testimony and eloquent plea to rethink how rape is handled in America and around the world. Bowdler's writing is beautiful, compelling, and urgent. This book is a knockout."
Alysia Abbott, author of Fairyland
"As a fellow survivor, I am in awe of what Michelle Bowdler has achieved with this masterful, suspenseful, and impeccably researched book. Bowdler courageously searches for an answer to her central question even when it seems the answer is devastating: It’s not that we don’t believe victims; it's that we don’t particularly care. But this is not a book about despair. Arming the reader with knowledge and the power of storytelling, Is Rape a Crime? is essential reading for a better, more just society."
Grace Talusan, author of The Body Papers, winner of the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing in Nonfiction
"Michelle Bowdler's remarkable, beautifully constructed book is essential reading. It forces us to confront both the reality of sexual assault and the repeated brutalities of a system that treats survivors of rape with disdain and neglect. And yet Bowdler is no victim. This book is not only a memoir but a call to action, one that will inspire and galvanize every reader."
Ayelet Waldman, executive producer and co-creator of Netflix's Unbelievable and author of A Really Good Day
"A deeply personal look at the experiences of one rape survivor combined with the systemic and shocking societal brokenness that multiplies that harm, Michelle's book should be on the ‘important reads list’ for everyone over the age of eighteen living in the United States; for survivors, for those who care about and for them, for medical and criminal justice professionals, psychotherapists, and social activists who insist on dignity for all. Michelle Bowdler reminds us, 'sustained change takes time and persistence and it is never only about one person.' It is about all of us and our everyday actions both small and large."
Janet Yassen, LICSW, Co-Founder of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center
“Raw, visceral, urgently researched, and impeccably argued, Michelle Bowdler’s Is Rape a Crime? is a book for our times. From the horrific crime she sufferedone familiar to too many womenshe extracts a public call to action, forcing us not to turn away from a message at once vitally personal and publicly searing. I felt honored to read this book, and changed by it. Bowdler’s voice is one we need.”
Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, Lambda-award winning author of The Fact of a Body
“Tracking police inaction on her own case, Michelle Bowdler wields memory as a weapon then a banner to urge an end to this most wretched and devastating of crimes against women. Take this book in hand and join her. Rape is a crime! Here is our manifesto!”
Honor Moore, the author of the National Book Critics Circle Award finalist The Bishop’s Daughter