Victim’s Voice

Julie Davidson

  • Rape: My Story by Jill Saward and Wendy Green
    Bloomsbury, 153 pp, £13.99, September 1990, ISBN 0 7475 0751 1

This is a hard book to read and a harder book to be hard about. It has been received uneasily, mainly by women columnists and women’s page writers who have found it difficult to reconcile its tabloid appeal (the Mail snapped up the serial rights) with its solemn purpose. Most of these reviewers, while hinting at misgivings, have dutifully taken the therapeutic line: ‘If this book helps women who have been raped to come to terms with the trauma then its publication is justified ... if it changes attitudes ... provides valuable insights into the long-term effects ... indicts the press, the law, the public perception of rape ...’ And so on.

It’s a brutish instinct which seeks to quarrel with any of that. Scepticism is somehow required to stifle itself in the face of Jill Saward’s appalling testimony. Even that imp of mischief which routinely challenges the integrity of the publisher’s blurb is obliged to behave itself. The judgment of the book jacket reads very like the prevailing verdict of the reviews: ‘Here is an immensely inspiring and moving story, and also a valuable one. Rape victims everywhere have at last found a voice.’

A very loud voice, if you can interpret the graphics of the cover in vocal terms. The typeface used for the title defeats my experience of banner headlines. The word ‘rape’ fills the top half of the jacket and is repeated on the back, so that, however the book is displayed – as, for example, in the studied dishevelment of a Waterstone’s book bin – its subject will not be overlooked. It is not the kind of jacket design which encourages reading on trains, tubes or buses.

Bloomsbury clearly expect their book to be read by people other than rape victims, if not necessarily on public transport – which brings up the first of the several small, optional questions (as opposed to the big and well-rehearsed societal ones) which surround the writing and publishing of this book. Who will read Rape? Who, other than those with vested interests, will want to read it? The vested interests, I suspect, fall into two categories, one respectable and the other disreputable. The first includes the above-mentioned rape victims, and I hope it helps them. It also includes people whose work brings them into contact with rape victims: police officers, doctors, therapists, lawyers, judges, and I hope it improves their understanding of the consequences of this crime. I hope this particularly for judges, and most particularly for the Solomon who famously found that the trauma Jill Saward suffered was ‘not so great’, and gave her attackers such light sentences that even our legislators rebelled. The Ealing Vicarage rape judgment was critical to the climate which allowed the law to change and to grant victims the right of appeal against sentences which don’t fit the crime.

Other respectable readers of Rape will include some of those few committed Christians which our secular society is capable of producing. They will want to take heart from Jill Saward’s message of faith (‘Without God I would not be here today’). But these people can’t add up to a very large readership. It’s my pessimistic guess that the book will find its biggest market among the vulgarly curious, the plain prurient and the downright perverted.

The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.

You are not logged in