Beware the Adorable Rapist

Ladies, take a good look at a photo of Brock Turner. Doesn’t matter if you see the disheveled mugshot belatedly released by authorities or the smiling yearbook portrait offered by Turner’s parents. That’s the face of a rapist. Those big blue eyes, those perfect white teeth, that All-American smile. Don’t be fooled. That handsome swimming star raped an unconscious young woman behind a dumpster at Stanford University.


His six-month sentence didn’t reflect that – in part because Americans misunderstand the nature of rape.


We think of rapists as strangers lurking in bushes. We warn our daughters not to walk home alone late at night and instead to get a nice male friend to escort them. But that nice male friend, with his All-American smile and perfect teeth, is far more likely to rape you than anyone lurking in the shrubbery.


Our understanding of sexual assault has to change. We can’t save the lengthy jail sentences for “legitimate rapes,” as some politicians have called the boogeyman-in-the-bushes scenario. Acquaintance rape is real rape. It is the vast majority of sex crimes.


More than eighty percent of rapes are committed by an acquaintance. As a sex-crimes prosecutor, I handled hundreds of cases involving victims’ friends, fellow students, coaches, coworkers, religious leaders. My filing cabinets overflowed with rapes by the victim’s uncle, stepfather, or ex-boyfriend. Every year or so, we’d arrest a pedophile ice-cream man. Smiling acquaintances, all.


College cases, like the one featured in my latest novel, “The Last Good Girl,” often feature golden boys: football stars, frat guys, cute RAs. These rapists don’t use guns or knives. They use alcohol, the number one date rape drug in America. Kegs are their weapon.


And alcohol is usually their defense, too. But campus acquaintance rapes are not the misremembered drunken hookups that many people believe. In fact, 5% of college men commit 90% of the sex assaults on campuses. These assaults are not the result of intoxicated “miscommunications” but of serial predators who commit the same crime over and over. If a man has raped once, he likely did it before — and will do it again.

The survivor in the Stanford case aptly described Turner’s predatory conduct: “I was the wounded antelope of the herd, completely alone and vulnerable, physically unable to fend for myself, and he chose me.” Campus rapes often involve victims who are so intoxicated they cannot possibly consent; predators choose them for precisely this reason.


Deterrence is particularly important in these types of cases – but sentences don’t reflect that. Brock Turner’s sentence, six months out of a possible fourteen years, is not terribly unusual for this type of crime. The outrage over this particular case is the outrage that I felt over and over as a sex-crimes prosecutor, when my rape convictions in the local D.C. Superior Court routinely garnered fractions of the sentences given to federal drug defendants in the U.S. District Court, next door.


Why do we give mandatory jail sentences of decades to non-violent drug offenders, but fail to significantly incarcerate rapists like Brock Turner? Certainly, in Turner’s case, his blond hair and blue eyes played a role. I can’t imagine a black kid in the same situation getting the six-month slap on the wrist that Judge Aaron Persky gave Turner. Class, too, played a role. Turner comes from a background so privileged, the judge thought that jail time “would have a severe impact” on him (isn’t that what jail time is supposed to do?). Merely going through the process was punishment enough. White male privilege is alive and well.


But most of all, I think this is about our refusal to see acquaintance rape as a real crime. This attitude was reflected, unsurprisingly, by one of Turner’s friends in her letter of support for him. “This is completely different from a woman getting kidnapped and raped as she is walking to her car in a parking lot,” wrote Leslie Rasmussen. “That is a rapist. These are not rapists.”


Ms. Rasmussen, Judge Persky, America: Brock Turner’s case is what sexual assault looks like. This, or something like it, is happening to 20% of college women. The incredible, eloquent, gut-wrenching victim impact statement written by the survivor demonstrates what thousands of college women go through every year. We need to start taking this seriously.


We need to apply the laws on the books to acquaintance rapes, and actually give the jail time that is prescribed. We need to send a strong message to every young man who might walk an intoxicated young woman by a dumpster. Sex assault is not acceptable. It will be punished. Even when the assailant has a nice smile and impressive swim times.


This is rape. Let’s start treating it that way.

College Decisions & Campus Sex Assaults

The month of May is the deadline for many colleges’ tuition payment and the time when students must decide where to go. As a former sex-crimes prosecutor, I’m happy to see that many young women making this decision are checking the statistics about reported incidents of sexual assault on campus. But I’m afraid the statistics are misleading – sometimes deliberately so.


A college that reports zero sexual assaults is not safer than a college that does have reported incidents. Sexual assaults are happening at every campus. The college that reports zero sexual assaults is oblivious–or lying.


Here are the stark statistics. Ladies, you have a 20% chance of being sexually assaulted while you’re at school. One in five girls who go to college will be sexually assaulted before she leaves. The same is true for five percent of the boys. And yet for decades, many colleges have reported 0 rapes on their campus every year.


Mathematically, it doesn’t add up. In fact, many colleges have been sweeping these crimes under the rug for years to protect their reputations. No parent wants their daughter to go to Rape U. Applications go down when a college rape becomes public.


So, colleges have used various tactics to keep their assaults quiet. Some have discouraged reporting. They make the process difficult, hard to understand, drawn-out, clunky. Many survivors drop out because it’s so long and painful. If they make it through, many attackers have been found “not responsible,” the college equivalent of “not guilty.” Even in those cases where a rapist was ultimately found “responsible,” that number may not have made it into the annual report the college was supposed to make to the federal government.


Of course there are rules against these tactics. Title IX is a federal gender equity law that prohibits discrimination or a hostile environment based on gender. Courts have held that Title IX requires colleges to address sexual harassment among students — and the most extreme form of harassment is sexual assault.  Similarly, the Clery Act is a federal law which requires universities to report the number of crimes on their campus every year.


But many colleges are under investigation for failing to comply with these laws. Currently, over 150 colleges are being investigated by the Department of Justice and/or Department or Education for violating Title IX and/or the Clery Act. These institutions range from some of the top universities in the country: Princeton, University of Michigan, and University of Virginia, to giant state schools like Ohio State University, Indiana University, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, and Colorado University. The Chronicle of Higher Education keeps a running list here.


So what’s a student to do? How can you figure out the safety of the campuses you’re considering?


Of course, you should check the numbers the school itself publicizes. But be skeptical, understanding that zero rapes is almost impossible. Keep looking, keep asking questions. Obviously Google “your university + sexual assault” and read what comes up. Check out The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, which has a state-by-state enforcement map showing investigations across America. The Department of Education has an online Campus Safety Tool – you can see how many reports they’ve received, campus by campus. The American Association of University Women’s “Ending Campus Sexual Assault Tool Kit” has great info, and more resources are on the site.


Finally, talk to girls on the campus – do they know anyone who’s been assaulted? How was she treated? Ask your student tour guide if they know what to do if they’ve been sexually assaulted.


Don’t be afraid to start this conversation. It’s so important to talk about this. Young women who are insisting on talking about this – like the authors of “We Believe You,” the extraordinary book by college sex assault survivors chronicling their experiences – are changing the national conversation, insisting that the world take this seriously. I’m trying to do the same with my latest novel, “The Last Good Girl.”

LastGoodGirl cover with blurb

College can and should be a wonderful experience. There are steps you can take to reduce the chance of this terrible crime happening to you. But it also helps to go to a school that takes this problem seriously and is addressing it. That means a school that recognizes the problem exists.


Even at the best of schools.



THE LAST GOOD GIRL launch — and a free paperback!

I’m excited that my next book, THE LAST GOOD GIRL, is coming out on May 3rd! This is the fifth book in the Anna Curtis series (like the others, it can be read as a standalone).  It’s about the disappearance of a college girl and the issue of campus sex assaults.

LastGoodGirl cover with blurb

I’m thrilled that some of my favorite authors have given high praise.

Lisa Unger said: “Every page of THE LAST GOOD GIRL crackles with authenticity and sizzles with suspense. Leotta knows her stuff and this is her best book yet.”

Linda Fairstein said, “Leotta is one of the very best crime writers today.”

Lisa Scottoline said, “Leotta’s experience as a federal sex-crimes prosecutor shines through on every page.”


I hope you’ll like it too!  And I hope you’ll buy it today.

I want to thank and encourage everyone who buys the book this week. So here’s the deal: Buy THE LAST GOOD GIRL by Saturday, May 7, and I’ll send you a free Anna Curtis paperback of your choice.

Just shoot me an email at with: (1) your receipt for purchasing THE LAST GOOD GIRL before May 7, 2016; (2) your mailing address; and (3) your choice of LAW OF ATTRACTION, DISCRETION or SPEAK OF THE DEVIL.  The rest is on me!

Pre-Order Here:

Apple iBooks

Barnes & Noble

Thanks so much for your support!
Hope you’re having a wonderful spring and finding some great reads!

*The fine print: No P.O. boxes, please, and I can only mail to addresses within the United States. Your paperback will ship within two weeks (or sooner, depending largely on whether my kids actually go to sleep at bedtime).

Thanks for your support!

My latest book, A GOOD KILLING, got off to a great start because of you. Thanks so much for buying it, for telling friends, and for posting wonderful reviews! I’m very grateful to all my fantastic friends and readers.


The critics were also kind. A GOOD KILLING was named one of “The Summer’s Best of The Best” by O, The Oprah Magazine!


The Washington Post  also gave the whole series a nod, saying “[Leotta is] a writer exceptionally well-informed on crimes against women….These are smart, tough-minded tales, well worth a look.”


I’m thrilled to announce two terrific upcoming events. Come if you can!

Monday, October 5 at 6:30 pm
Busboys & Poets Takoma Park
“Women Crime Writers”
I’ll interview the fabulous Sarah Weinman, the foremost expert on American crime fiction. It should be a fascinating discussion. Free and open to the public.

Thursday, October 15 at 6:00 pm
Benefit for the Maryland Women’s Law Center
@ Goucher College, $100/ticket
For more info email

Hope you’re having a great autumn, and enjoying back-to-school time (I am!) and this beautiful cool weather.

Happy reading!

How To Plan a Murder in Washington, D.C.

I had the honor of speaking at the Smithsonian last night, leading a seminar called “How to Plan a Murder in DC.” I didn’t actually teach any deadly moves, but talked about how DC serves as a great setting for thrilling stories in novels and TV. As part of the seminar, the audience helped plot a murder using people, places and motives that are uniquely DC. We took suggestions and voted – winners got copies of my books (of course). The winning plot – and their creators –  are listed here:

Setting:   The Library of Congress (Janice McLean)
Killer:   The Director of the FBI (Charles Leven)
Victims:   The Nationals Relief Pitcher (Charles Cowan) and the CIA Director (Cathy Wiley)
Method:   With a baseball bat (Lisa King)
Motive:   The pitcher is a spy, and the CIA director was covering it up (Jennifer Skidmore)

This was a mishmash of ideas, but all together, I actually think this could be a decent novel. 🙂

Incidentally, Cathy Wiley, the woman who suggested the CIA director as a victim, was at the seminar with three other women… who were celebrating her bridal shower! I asked if Cathy’s husband-to-be knew that she was having her bachelorette party at a “How to Plan a Murder” seminar, and she said he wasn’t worried.  At least she has an alibi for last night. Congratulations, Cathy, and thanks for making my seminar your last hurrah as a single lady.

While we’re plotting murders in DC, here are a few more suggestions, from friends who helped me brainstorm this on Facebook:

Tim Hepp: “With a fountain pen in the Politics & Prose fiction room.”

Ed Uthman: “Murder in the Ford Theater, then posing the body in the diorama in the Natural History Meusum, leaving the clue, ‘Sic semper Tyrannosaurus.'”

Professor Ross Emmett: “Federal sex crimes prosecutor found dead in the sand at the base of the Smithsonian’s Foucault pendulum.”  (Yikes!)

Kathleen Teller-Stamis: “Someone takes out Boehner in his office, makes it look like over-tanning combined with lung cancer.”

Suzanne Libby: “An associate’s office at any law firm downtown – they’ve been snuffing out people’s souls for years.”

And my favorite, from the brilliant thriller writer Patrick Lee:

“The Supreme Court justices are stealing the Hope Diamond from the National Museum of Natural History. A janitor catches them. They tie him up, then decide 5 to 4 to kill him.”

Read on…

Here are a few articles that I wrote recently for other sites.  Readers of this blog might enjoy them, so I’m posting the links below.

I think we need to recalibrate our understanding of sexual assault: specifically, our understanding of who poses a danger to us and our kids.  More often than not, it’s the devil you know.  To find out why, read The Monster in the Three-Button Suit on Above the Law.

TV crime fans may appreciate the guest post I contributed to  Joyce Lamb’s Happily Ever After column on USA Today: The Top 5 Things TV Crime Dramas Get Wrong.

And, of course, I’d love for you to stop by Simon & Schuster’s website and read the first chapter of my latest novel, A GOOD KILLING.  Romance Reviews Today gave it their highest rating, a “Perfect 10.”

I hope you’ll like it, too!

My next book launch!

My fourth book, A GOOD KILLING, comes out May 12th!  I’m so excited to share it with you.

This is my best book yet. Anna goes home to Michigan to defend her sister against a murder charge. The story is about the bond between sisters, corruption in a small town, and the very different choices two women make to try to save the people they love.

I’ve been thrilled to hear some early reviews.

AGoodKilling-cvrLibrary Journal gave A GOOD KILLING a starred review, saying, “Leotta spins a delicious tale of suspense that will have readers hurrying to find out what happens but at the same time wanting to savor each page. This highly entertaining thriller shouldn’t be missed.”
Linda Fairstein said, “Leotta is one of the very best crime writers today. If you haven’t read her powerful series yet, start here.”

Please pre-order A GOOD KILLING today:

And I would love to see you at a book signing.  Check out my Events page to find a signing near you.
Thanks for your support, and happy reading!

Happy New Year!

Happy new year!  I hope you had a great time celebrating, hanging with friends, watching the ball drop on TV, or doing whatever makes you happiest.  Every New Year’s Eve, my husband and I sit down and recall our favorite moments of the year.  I won’t bore you with tales of the cute things my kids said, but here are a few of my favorite professional moments of 2014.

In August, I was a featured speaker at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting in Boston.  It was a wonderful honor, but what made it even better was that my father — also a former federal prosecutor — flew into town for the event.  I got to publicly  thank him for inspiring me with his work, his love, and his ideals.

2014 ABA Annual Meeting Speakers, Allison Leotta

Sure, Justice Roberts gave an inspiring speech. But did he make his dad cry?

On the way to Boston, my family and I stopped by Martha’s Vineyard to attend a book signing hosted by the terrific Linda Fairstein.  Linda was Chief of the Sex Crimes Unit of the Manhattan DA’s Office for decades and now writes thrillers drawing on her experience.  As a prosecutor, she’s a personal hero of mine.  As a writer, she rocks.  I was thrilled to appear with Linda and Joseph Finder at the lovely Edgartown Books mystery brunch. My husband, Mike, deserves great credit for somehow making our kids appear to be polite and well-bred citizens of the world during these events.  The kiddos themselves had a blast in Massachusetts, not only practicing how to sit quietly during speeches, but also beachcombing, swimming and learning how to eat lobster.

Edgartown Books manager Susan Mercier, Linda Fairstein, Joseph Finder, Allison Leotta

Edgartown Books manager Susan Mercier, Linda Fairstein, Joseph Finder, yours truly

Cary Elwes and Allison Leotta

With apologies to Princess Buttercup.


In May, my publisher, Simon & Schuster, celebrated its 90th anniversary with a party at the beautiful Highline Hotel.  I feel so fortunate to be part of this incredible publishing tradition, working with some of the best editors and business people in the the country.  That night, I met Cary Elwes — yes, Wesley of The Princess Bride! — who recently published a book about making the movie.  He graciously told all the ladies “As you wish,” which elicited more than a few shrieks. He kissed my hand and said it was a pleasure to meet me, and I displayed great dignity by not swooning.



A Good Killing: A Novel

Best of all: I finished my fourth novel!    I’m so excited about this book — it’s my best one so far.  This is the fourth outing for my series heroine, Anna Curtis.  She goes home to Michigan to defend her sister Jody against a murder charge.  The story tackles issues like the rape-kit backlog, public corruption, and Detroit’s attempt at a comeback.  It’s also the most personal case for Anna yet.  I can’t wait for you to be able to read it.  A GOOD KILLING will come out this May, 2015 (you can pre-order it now).


Meanwhile, I hope you’re enjoying the first days of 2015, and that the new year brings you much luck, good health, happiness, success, and love!