What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape

£9.99 Preorder Recommend

‘Unflinching and nuanced… Her structure is disruptive and powerful for it—never letting us forget that there is a person who suffers, a body that gets broken. And, when a body is violated, all of society is at risk. This book could not be more timely, nor could there be a better thinker—herself a survivor—to write it. If the #MeToo campaign is to have any lasting impact for change in women's circumstances across the world, it will be because of books such as this’ —Preti Taneja


Thoughtful, provocative and intelligent, this game-changing book looks at sexual assault and the global discourse on rape from the viewpoint of a survivor, writer, counsellor and activist.

Sohaila Abdulali was the first Indian rape survivor to speak out about her experience. Gang-raped as a teenager in Mumbai and indignant at the deafening silence on the issue in India, she wrote an article for a women’s magazine questioning how we perceive rape and rape victims. Thirty years later she saw the story go viral in the wake of the fatal 2012 Delhi rape and the global outcry that followed.

Drawing on three decades of grappling with the issue personally and professionally, and on her work with hundreds of other survivors, she explores what we think about rape and what we say.

She also explores what we don’t say, and asks pertinent questions about who gets raped and who rapes, about consent and desire, about redemption and revenge, and about how we raise our sons. Most importantly, she asks: does rape always have to be a life-defining event, or is it possible to recover joy?

Staunch Book Prize

27 September 2018
Written post-Weinstein and #MeToo, Sohaila Abdulali has produced a timely, deeply affecting and comprehensive work on the subject of rape. In it she notes how shamefully victims are often treated in comparison to their assailants, and investigates the not-so-simple question of who gets raped and who are the rapists. One minute calmly, the next in anger, Abdulali challenges misconceptions, prejudices and misogynistic thinking, demanding to know why rape is so prevalent and so casually excused. Using both anecdote and cold statistics, she never flinches from asking tough questions or from bringing us back sharply to the often catastrophic affect rape has on the lives of victims. Reasoned, realistic and unwavering, gang-rape survivor Sohaila Abdulali is a compassionate voice of authority who refuses to let that experience define her. She has achieved something quite remarkable here – a book that, without sensationalising this highly emotive subject, manages to be both a burning roar of outrage and coolly sensational.
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3 September 2018
In 2013, Abdulali wrote an op-ed for the New York Times about her own experience of rape and its aftermath. This book expands that essay, examining rape and rape culture on a global level and in the wake of the #MeToo movement. In the three decades since her rape, Abdulali has worked at a rape crisis center, interviewed survivors from around the world, and written extensively on the topic. But her book is by no means meant to be the final word on rape; she intends, in fact, to start a dialogue. In the introduction, she admits that she may contradict herself but that hers is no simple topic, and individual experiences of and responses to rape vary dramatically. She writes in a conversational style and injects a levity that, rather than betraying the seriousness of her subject, makes it more possible to handle the necessary yet horrifying details of rape of all kinds. An important book working towards an important goal: meaningful and thoughtful discussion of a taboo subject.
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Publishers Weekly starred review

3 September 2018
Abdulali (The Year of the Tiger) brings precision, clarity, and style to her exploration of a topic often treated as more confusing than it is. A former coordinator of a rape crisis center, she uses her own brutal rape as a touchstone and springboard for this series of extended reflections on the discourse surrounding rape, with stories from Australia, Egypt, India, Italy, South Africa, and the U.S. Drawing on interviews, personal emails, government reports, and other documents, Abdulali discusses varied scenarios, from date rate, marital rape, and incest to gang rape and war crimes, acknowledging the high rates of rape perpetrated against trans people and sex workers. She approaches debates about consent, responsibility, motive, honor, and prevention with deep compassion, humor, a healthy dose of irony, and anger. Though Abdulali doesn’t claim to have answers, the book’s assertions are clear: victims deserve belief, support, and a fair hearing; rapists, not their targets, are responsible for rape; and survivors can go on to live full and joyful lives. Her clear-eyed assessments, grace, and literary touches will make this book valuable reading for sociologists, therapists, feminists, and anyone who believes women should be able to move through the world free from fear.
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Kirkus Reviews

27 August 2018

In an expansion of her popular 2013 New York Times op-ed, novelist and rape survivor Abdulali (Year of the Tiger, 2010, etc.) calls for franker conversation about rape. Modeling discourse about rape that is at once direct and nuanced, unblinking yet subtle, the author tackles the complexities of sexual violence head-on, rightly criticizing simplistic shibboleths. For example, she encourages survivors to talk about their rapes, yet she recognizes that ‘telling’ is sometimes costly and ‘doesn't always come with a reward: comfort, closure, justice’. (Abdulali acknowledges that when discussing her own rape, she has sometimes worried that people think she should just get over it.) The author insightfully asks whether the ‘yes means yes and no means no’ model adequately accounts for a woman who ‘chooses’ to be raped over being killed or a woman who ‘give[s] in’ to a man who holds power in her professional world. Abdulali also calls attention to the ‘institutional…scaffolding’ that allows ‘abuse to flourish’—e.g., the family systems, political and economic arrangements, and workplace norms that deprive women of meaningful agency and that sometimes reward women for going along with systems that are ultimately disempowering. The book is distinguished by its global view; Abdulali includes examples and illustrations from the United States but also from India, South Africa, and Egypt.There's a little bit of snark and dash of self-help. Spliced throughout are shorter chapters (‘A brief pause for ennui’, ‘A brief pause for confusion’) that offer snapshots of the author’s emotional landscape: a feeling of rage that overtakes her, seemingly out of nowhere, while attending a bat mitzvah, or her envy of writers who get to write about bird song and other happy topics while she’s pondering brutality and violence (‘Art! Joy! Life! It’s so much more inviting than discussing getting gonorrhea from one’s older brother or rape as a weapon of war’). Susan Brownmiller, vitally updated.

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