University student Emily Shapiro disappears in Michigan after a sexual assault. It’s a fictional story that its author, Allison Leotta, based on 12 years of experience as a federal prosecutor in Washington D.C., where she worked on cases involving sex crimes, domestic violence, and crimes against children. Leotta’s 2017 "Michigan Notable Book" is The Last Good Girl (Touchstone, 2016).
“I would come back from the courthouse every day, talking with my colleagues about the incredible things that happened that day,” Leotta says. “I never lost my capacity to be surprised and shocked. We saw the very best and the very worst of human nature, and I kept saying, 'Somebody needs to put this in a novel.'”
That somebody turned out to be Leotta herself. She began to write full-time after leaving the prosecutor’s office to raise her children. Developing what's now a five-book series of thrillers based on fictional sex-crimes prosecutor Anna Curtis, Leotta quickly earned critical acclaim and awards, along with a loyal following of readers.
Leotta wrote the first novel, Law of Attraction, while still working as a prosecutor.
“I would wake up at 5 a.m., work for two hours, and then I’d go to work at the U.S. Attorney’s office,” she says. “After one year, I had the first draft. After two, I had what I felt was the best I could do. I was lucky to get the agent of my dreams.”
With the encouragement of Simon & Schuster, Leotta continued to write. She's been compared to John Grisham, the author of many popular legal thrillers. She likes to say that someday she would like Grisham to be known as “the male Allison Leotta.”
Her newest novel, The Last Good Girl, tells the story of sexual assault on a college campus.
“If such a case made it to my desk, I knew it was only the tip of an iceberg,” Leotta says. “Sexual assaults are vastly underreported, the most underreported crimes in America. On college campuses, it’s estimated that about 20-to-25 percent of the women who start their freshman year will be sexually assaulted at one point or another.”
In Leotta’s novel, the rapist is a popular “frat boy” with a wealthy father who's a big donor to the college. His powerful connections threaten to bury his son's crimes.
“In the past ten years, the majority of universities have reported zero sexual assaults happening on their campuses. Universities are required by law to report assaults, so you can see that the math there doesn’t add up to the 25 percent.”
Leotta says colleges and universities ten not to report sexual assaults because they don’t want to lose donors or see student enrollment go down. Leotta addresses this conundrum in her novel.
Leotta is also a contributor to the Huffington Post, where she reality-checks TV crime dramas like Law & Order: SVU. Leotta has provided legal commentary for outlets like CNN, MSNBC, PBS, and Reuters TV. She also serves on the board of directors of the Mystery Writers of America. A graduate of Michigan State University and Harvard Law School, Leotta lives in Washington, D.C.
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