New review: Rape – an unfinished revolution

// 5 June 2008

Cover of bookJoanna Bourke’s history of rape turns a steady and necessary gaze on an unsettling subject, concludes Louise Livesey

Although at times distinctly uncomfortable reading and definitely one of those books for which the word “great” or “fabulous” is both apposite and somehow wrong, Joanna Bourke’s Rape: A history from 1860 to the present is a meticulous and wide-ranging examination of the phenomenon of rape.

It is an academic book, but one which is simultaneously accessible and scholarly. Bourke begins with an explanation of her motivation and it’s an introduction which marks out this book as of particular interest to feminists:

On or about 30 February 2005, I became enraged. I am ashamed to admit it, but this book had been born of fear, not anger. Sexual violence was familiar to me. Like all women, I had been warned of sexual danger since childhood… On that day in February, however, I read a Home Office report that revealed only 5% of rapes reported to the police in the UK ever end in conviction. My lifelong awareness of the harms caused by sexual violence suddenly crystallised into a political and intellectual project.

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