First published in 1988, I Never Called It Rape is a guide to recognizing, stopping, and recovering from acquaintance rape with statistics from a Ms. magazine survey about acquaintance rape on campus. As a victim of date rape shortly after graduating college, I was interested in reading this book (I listened to the audiobook), which is largely considered one of the key and formative texts about rape culture.

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The summary, from Amazon:

Featuring a new preface by feminist icon Gloria Steinem, and a new foreword by Salamishah Tillet, PhD, Rutgers University Professor of African American Studies and Creative Writing

“Essential. . . . It is nonpolemical, lucid, and speaks eloquently not only to the victims of acquaintance rape but to all those caught in its net.”— Philadelphia Inquirer

With the advent of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, and almost daily new reports about rape, both on and off campuses, Robin Warshaw’s I Never Called It Rape is even more relevant today than when it was first published in 1988. The sad truth is that statistics on date rape have not changed in more than thirty years. That our culture enables rape is not just shown by the numbers: the outbreak of complaints against alleged rapists from Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein to Matt Lauer and President Donald Trump has further amplified this horrifying reality.

With more than 80,000 copies sold to date, I Never Called It Rape serves as a guide to understanding rape as a cultural phenomenon—providing women and men with strategies to address our rape endemic. It gives survivors the context and resources to help them heal from their experiences, and pulls the wool from all our eyes regarding the pervasiveness of rape and sexual assault in our society.

Buy I Never Called It Rape here.

I Never Called It Rape is a book based on a Ms. magazine survey about acquaintance rape on campus in the 1980’s with information on recognizing acquaintance rape for what it is, fighting it – through standing against it and preventing it as a potential rapist, bystander, or potential victim – and surviving it. While the report is now almost four decades old, it is still very relevant to today – in fact, high profile cases and the #MeToo movement perhaps make it more relevant than ever. The report focuses on rape perpetrated by men against women, though it is acknowledged that this is not the only form of rape. I do think had it been written in the modern era, language would have been more inclusive towards trans and nonbinary individuals, but still with the focus on misogyny. There are a number of forewords and an afterword and epilogue written over the years, as recently updated as 2019.

I listened to and enjoyed the audiobook, despite the difficult topic. Eileen Stevens does a great job narrating, and Gloria Steinem narrates her own foreword. I listened at my usual speed of around 1.2 or 1.3x.

Ultimately this is a must read title if you are interested in learning more about rape culture, particularly acquaintance or date rape. This is a difficult topic, but an important one. I think some additional reading material should be paired with it – for instance, the tips on avoiding it are very useful for the woman of 1988, but not 2022. (I would like to note there is no burden placed on the victim for being raped. The tips for avoiding are more about recognizing warning signs and making sure you have back up plans in case you are in an unsafe situation.) For example, having extra change for a payphone doesn’t help the modern woman. I think adding some backmatter with more modern tips would make this title better, or at least resources for the modern woman or for trans, nonbinary, and male victims. The focus on women as victims and men as perpetrators was deliberate and not done to be the opposite of inclusive – the original report does acknowledge that men can be victims, by women or other men (though the legal definition of rape at the time put the former in a gray area) and that trans people are victims or rape. This was a report created by a women’s magazine, and I think in light of the #MeToo movement it is still applicable to have resources focusing specifically on the crime as perpetrated by men against women.

The epilogue is very useful because it critiques and further explains the 1988 study – what schools and populations they focused on and why. A modern study would be an interesting follow up in a further epilogue. This was a 4 star read for me.

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Book Club Questions

  1. The Ms. report was from 1988. Do you think it’s still relevant today?
  2. What are your thoughts on the title of this book?

Interested? Buy I Didn’t Call It Rape.
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P.S. I listened to this book on Audible. Try Audible and get two free audiobooks!

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