In 1984, two men broke into Michelle Bowdler’s Boston apartment. They tied her up, blindfolded her, held a knife to her throat and raped her. After they left and once she freed herself, Bowdler immediately called the police. Cops took fingerprints and evidence from her home. She submitted to a rape kit at the hospital; nurses combed the crime scene that was her body for anything that might identify her rapists. Bowdler did everything that she thought she was supposed to do as a victim.
Is Rape a Crime? A Memoir, an Investigation, and a Manifesto is about everything that happened—or more accurately, did not happen—afterward. The trauma began with the police officers who dismissively took a report in her living room. In the ensuing weeks, years and decades, the Boston Police Department’s mishandling became even worse.
An article in the Boston Globe in 2007 prompted Bowdler to revisit her rape case and press the BPD for answers. At the time, there were many news stories about a backlog of untested rape kits. (It’s estimated that as many as 400,000 evidence kits have never been tested in the United States.) Bowdler argues that the word “backlog” implies a queue. The real problem is that law enforcement has not shown the will to pursue these crimes.
Is Rape a Crime? blends Bowdler’s own narrative with detailed research about how law enforcement—from crime labs to individual cops—fail rape victims. Bowdler is candid about how trauma from the break-in, rapes and police inaction still affects her entire life. She is now a wife and mother of two, but piecing her life together following the rapes has been a slow process. Understandably, a lot of conversations about rape victims focus on positives, like their strength to survive. Bowdler’s voice in the conversation will make sure you know that her survival is hard won.