What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape

In the tradition of Rebecca Solnit, a beautifully written, deeply intelligent, searingly honest—and ultimately hopeful—examination of sexual assault and the global discourse on rape told through the perspective of a survivor, writer, counselor, and activist

“Both unflinching and nuanced, Abdulali breaks the East/West boundary so often upheld in feminist writing on this subject. . . . Disruptive and powerful . . . If the #metoo campaign is to have any lasting impact for change in women’s circumstances around the world, it will be because of books such as this.” —Preti Taneja, author of We That Are Young

After surviving gang-rape at seventeen in Mumbai, Sohaila Abdulali was indignant about the deafening silence that followed and wrote a fiery piece about the perception of rape—and rape victims—for a women’s magazine. Thirty years later, with no notice, her article reappeared and went viral in the wake of the 2012 fatal gang-rape in New Delhi, prompting her to write a New York Times op-ed about healing from rape that was widely circulated. Now, Abdulali has written What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape—a thoughtful, generous, unflinching look at rape and rape culture.

Drawing on her own experience, her work with hundreds of survivors as the head of a rape crisis center in Boston, and three decades of grappling with rape as a feminist intellectual and writer, Abdulali tackles some of our thorniest questions about rape, articulating the confounding way we account for who gets raped and why—and asking how we want to raise the next generation. In interviews with survivors from around the world we hear moving personal accounts of hard-earned strength, humor, and wisdom that collectively tell the larger story of what rape means and how healing can occur. Abdulali also points to the questions we don't talk about: Is rape always a life-defining event? Is one rape worse than another? Is a world without rape possible?

What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape is a book for this #MeToo and #TimesUp age that will stay with readers—men and women alike—for a long, long time.


“Know this: the shock is not that Abdulali speaks frankly about rape. The shock is not that she interrogates the content, and limits, of our public discourses about rape culture with candor and warmth, with cool precision and justified rage, with wisdom and, yes, humor. The shock is that there are not more books like this. Read it, and do not stop talking.”
—Sarah Krasnostein, author of The Trauma Cleaner
“The right to our own bodies is the first step in any democracy, and by that measure, women in general—especially those of us also de-valued by race, caste, or class—are still subject to an intimate dictatorship. Read the personal stories in What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape and see how far we have come—and have yet to go.”
—Gloria Steinem
“Brilliant, frank, empowering, and urgently necessary. Sohaila Abdulali has created a powerful tool for examining rape culture and language on the individual, societal, and global level that everyone can benefit from reading.”
—Joey Soloway
“Both hard to read and an amazing, vital read, What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape is the exact book we all need right now. Sohaila is a brilliant and beautiful writer, filled with empathy, and she is a thought leader for our generation.”
—Alyssa Mastromonaco, author of Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?, co-host of Hysteria podcast, and former White House deputy chief of staff
“Such a lot of insight in this book. I wish I had written it. The more we talk, the more we learn. The more we learn, the more we can change. Read this book and be part of the change.”
—Una, author of Becoming Unbecoming
“An essential contribution to the current conversation about rape, rape culture, and the personal toll of sexual violence in the world today. Abdulali captures the complexity of this disturbing topic with clarity, compassion, and insight . . . [and] teaches us that surviving sexual violence is essentially a creative act. In her brave book she shares her, and many other, inspiring stories of surviving, thriving, and regaining wholeness.”
—Richard O. Prum, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, Yale University, and author of The Evolution of Beauty
“If the #MeToo campaign is to have any lasting impact . . . it will be because of books such as this.”
—Preti Taneja, author of We That Are Young
What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape places the American #MeToo movement in a global context. Sohaila Abdulali takes us from the U.S., to India, South Africa, Mexico, Kuwait, and other countries, providing examples that illustrate both the intense particularity and infuriating similarities of sexual violence around the globe. The book is courageous, angry, compassionate, informative, hopeful, and wise.”
—Elizabeth A. Armstrong, professor of sociology, University of Michigan

News and Reviews

Reader’s Guide

For book clubs, classrooms, and other group discussions, check out our Reading Group Guide for What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Sohaila Abdulali

Thanks in large part to the #MeToo movement and to the increasing number of women who are courageously sharing their stories, the narrative around sexual ass

What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape Reader's Group Guide

The New Press is pleased to share a Reading Group

Goodreads Reviews