Dense, scholarly examination of the nature of rape as it has been experienced and perceived in the United States, Great Britain and Australia from the mid 19th century to the present.
Bourke (History/Birkbeck College, Univ. of London; An Intimate History of Killing: Face-to-Face Killing in Twentieth-Century Warfare, 1999, etc.) focuses on rapists and what drives them. She exposes the myths that have surrounded the act, its perpetrators and its victims. African-American men, other minorities, immigrants, adolescent “thugs” and the poor have been stigmatized, she writes, while white professional men and middle-class husbands have been let off the hook. Bourke rejects the biological explanations of evolutionary psychologists who trace sexual violence back to our distant ancestors, finding more convincing the claim by feminists and social theorists that societal forces create men who sexually abuse others. She takes a critical look at the writings of criminologists, sociologists and psychiatrists who have studied the motives and behavior of sexually violent offenders, analyzing the shortcomings of the various methods of treatment and punishment they have advocated, from lobotomy and castration to aversion therapy and psychiatric treatment. She also discusses female abusers, psychopaths, exhibitionists and such potentially dangerous environments as prisons, the military and the home. Bourke presents data demonstrating that few rapes are reported, fewer still are taken seriously by the police and of the rapists who are charged, only a small number are convicted. Rape shield laws, she reports, have not been especially effective. While legal reform is needed, she believes it’s more important to change the specific political, economic and cultural environments that give rise to sexual violence. Although Bourke’s prose can be off-putting (“feminist functionalism,” “etiological resonance,” “narrativizing practices”), her scholarship is impressive. Not everyone will agree with her analysis, but she has succeeded in demystifying rape.
Provocative and challenging.