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Book Review: Rape: Victims of Crisis (Burgess, Holmstrom)
Reviewed by Trish Nemore, DC Rape Crisis Center
Feminist Alliance Against Rape Newsletter Jan/Feb/Mar 1975


Rape: Victims of Crisis by Ann Burgess and Lynda Holmstrom (Robert J. Brady Publishing Co., Bowie, Maryland, 1974)

Rape: Victims of Crisis is a thorough manual on crisis intervention that should e required reading for all rape counselors and others serving rape victims. The authors approach the subject of victims and their needs sympathetically and non-judgmentally. They stress the violent aspect of rape throughout, and therefore logically include recognition of counseling needs of prostitutes who have met with violence or perversion after contracting for services.

The book is divided into five sections: views of rape, victim reactions, community reactions, crisis intervention and counseling. The last two contain its real substance, comprising nearly 2/3 of the total. Crisis Intervention describes in detail the possible concerns a victim might have, techniques for helping her confront her feelings and cope with the problems she's facing, and "stalls" that can develop in the counseling process together with tips for avoiding such stalls. The inclusion of excerpts from conversations between victim and counselor gives life to the theory described, and serves to demystify the counseling process.

The section on Counseling Victims distinguishes the specific needs of certain groups: adults, children, male children, victims with prior psychiatric problems, and prostitutes. The counseling approaches then discussed made sense even to one with little experience. 

If the book lacks anything, it is a political perspective. The authors recognize the hostile attitudes victims encounter--such as not being believed in court--are part of a social pattern, and even suggest that the counselor should point out to the victim that these responses should not be taken personally. Yet nowhere do they discuss and analyze and specifically refute the bases for those attitudes and patterns.

The most egregious product of this lack of perspective is the chapter on police reactions. The authors, who champion the victim throughout the rest of the book seem, for this one chapter, to lay their sympathies with the police. They raise issues without explaining them, thus leaving the uninitiated to fill in with their own preconceived notions. For example, in discussing the police rationale for going over and over a story with a victim, they say sometimes the victim will go to court and add something new which reflects "negatively on their case." The reader may not know that this may be only something which makes the case less prosecutable because of the anti-victim biases of the entire legal system.

Further on, the authors describe police frustration at working up a case, only to find after months of court delays, that the victim is no longer willing to come to court. Despite a fairly thorough discussion later in the book of the trauma rape victims encounter from such delays, the vague impression left from the early chapter is that the victim is somehow uncooperative.

The lack of discussion of some aspects of rape, particularly the whole question of why the victim should not be blamed, may limit the book's audience to those who have already done serious reading and thinking on the subject, and those who seek them out. Those to whom a victim must prove she is "worthy" of services for some reason other than the mere fact that she states a need for them will not find proof here.

Nevertheless, what the book lacks in political education, it makes up for in information about victims needs. And it includes protocols for both police and hospitals to sensitively treat victims. These, after all, were the aims of the authors, and in these, they have succeeded admirably.