The best books about sex crimes

Many authors have picked their favorite books about sex crimes and why they recommend each book.

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I Have the Right to

By Chessy Prout, Jenn Abelson,

Book cover of I Have the Right to: A High School Survivor's Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope

I Have the Right to is the true story of Chessy Prout, who was sexually assaulted as a freshman as part of a ritualized “game” of conquest perpetrated by the boys at her high school. The book follows her quest for justice, as her case and trial gained international media attention. She has become a passionate advocate for consent education, and in 2017 (at the age of eighteen!) she started a non-profit dedicated to raising awareness of sexual assault in high schools. I’m in awe and admiration of the bravery and strength of this young woman, and believe everyone—teens and adults, boys and girls, everyone—needs to read her story. 

Who am I?

I began writing The Way I Used to Be back in 2010. For me, it started simply as a place to work through my own private thoughts and feelings about sexual violence. I was writing as a survivor myself, but also as someone who has known, loved, and cared for so many others who have experienced violence and abuse. By the time I finished, I realized my novel had evolved into something much bigger: a story I hoped could contribute something meaningful to the larger dialogue. These powerful books on this list are all a part of that dialogue, each based in a richly diverse, yet shared reality. Readers will learn, grow, heal, and find hope in these pages.

I wrote...

The Way I Used to Be

By Amber Smith,

Book cover of The Way I Used to Be

What is my book about?

Eden was always good at being good. But the night her brother’s best friend rapes her, everything changes. What was once simple, is now complex. What Eden once loved, she now hates. What she thought was true…now lies. She knows she’s supposed to tell someone what happened but she can’t. So, she buries it instead. And she buries the way she used to be.

Told in four parts—freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year—this provocative novel reveals the deep cuts of trauma. But it also demonstrates one young woman’s strength as she navigates the disappointment and pains of adolescence, of first love and first heartbreak, of friendships broken and rebuilt, all while learning to embrace a power of survival she never knew she had.

Sexual Forensics in Victorian and Edwardian England

By Victoria Bates,

Book cover of Sexual Forensics in Victorian and Edwardian England: Age, Crime and Consent in the Courts

This fascinating study shows that victim-blaming has a long history and doctors have been part of the problem, playing a significant role in constructing and reinforcing rape myths in the years 1850-1914. The unique focus on age, medical beliefs about puberty, and public concerns about sexual offences and working-class sexuality explains why even children under the legal age of consent might not be seen as sexually innocent. Medicine provided a scientific rationale for deeply entrenched and remarkably stable popular beliefs about ‘real rape’ and ‘victimhood’, contributing to the serious burden that female victims faced in court. 

Who am I?

I work on topics where medicine, crime, and the law intersect, aided by an undergraduate degree in chemistry and stimulated by my fascination with how criminal justice systems work. I have published on the history of poisoning, vitriol attacks, assault, child murder, and the role of scientific expertise in criminal investigations and trials, focusing on Britain since the seventeenth century. I’ve contributed to many TV documentaries over the years, and enjoy the opportunity to explain just why the history of crime is about so much more than individual criminals: it shows us how people in the past lived their lives and helps explain how we got where we are today.  

I wrote...

Medicine and Justice: Medico-Legal Practice in England and Wales, 1700-1914

By Katherine D. Watson,

Book cover of Medicine and Justice: Medico-Legal Practice in England and Wales, 1700-1914

What is my book about?

This study uses 2,600 cases of murder and sexual assault to answer two central questions: what did doctors contribute to the investigation of serious violent crime in the period 1700 to 1914, and what impact did this have?

It shows that medico-legal work — that is, what doctors actually did when they were faced with a body that had become the victim of violence — developed in tandem with and was shaped by the needs of two evolving practices: pre-trial investigative procedures dominated successively by coroners, magistrates and the police; and criminal trials in which lawyers gradually assumed a central role. Doctors were therefore key contributors to the processes that shaped the modern criminal justice system in England and Wales.

Fighting Words

By Kimberly Brubaker Bradley,

Book cover of Fighting Words

Mental illness can be so serious and depressing, even striking fear in some people’s hearts. Here are five of my favorite titles for young and old readers alike—award winners, all, that use excellent storytelling and beautiful writing, draw freely on humor (or at least irony), and responsibly, hopefully, honestly, sometimes disturbingly, demystify mental illness for readers wishing to walk a mile in these shoes. If you or your teen reader like your novels real and edifying, you’re sincerely welcome.

This story gently exposes the mental health fallout from long-term sexual abuse, including depression and a suicide attempt, but it’s told through the point of view of foster kid ten-year-old Della whose laugh-out-loud humor will have you snorting coffee out your nose. Della only slowly comes to realize what her beloved sixteen-year-old sister Suki has suffered and the novel contains nothing graphic. Best of all, these characters speak up, get help…

Who am I?

I’m an American author of young adult novel Romancing the Dark in the City of Light and other fiction for younger readers as well as a trained suicide prevention counselor and mental health advocate. I have long been pulled by the subject of suicide since struggling with depression as an adolescent. Along with my pal, author and psychologist Nancy Bo Flood, we read and keep track of exceptional, traditionally-published books dealing with mental illness—that of the main character or of someone they love—that avoid tropes and stereotypes, model characters seeking and receiving help and support and ultimately coping, all while pursuing their goals and dreams like any other fictional people. 

I wrote...

The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent

By Ann Jacobus Kordahl,

Book cover of The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent

What is my book about?

The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent is about 18-year-old Delilah who is finally feeling stable after getting help for her depression, anxiety, and alcohol addiction, and she finds a sense of purpose volunteering at a suicide crisis line. But her world shifts again when her beloved, terminally-ill aunt asks her to help her “die with dignity.”

Things We Didn't Talk about When I Was a Girl

By Jeannie Vanasco,

Book cover of Things We Didn't Talk about When I Was a Girl: A Memoir

The best memoirs, to me, are not only records of past events. They are also the record of a writer grappling with how best to tell the story. Jeannie Vanasco takes this idea to an entirely new level in this brilliant meta-memoir that not only chronicles a sexual assault she experienced in college, but also her present-day investigation into her rapist’s memories of the event, his motives, and his present-day thoughts about what happened. This book challenged me to think in new ways—not only about sexual assault, but also about the ways we remember it and write about it. 

Who am I?

I am a reader, writer, and professor specializing in memoir writing. I think every single person has a fascinating life. But, when writing it down, it can be difficult to find a narrative structure that allows the story to feel as unique as the human being writing it. I am drawn to memoirs that have fresh, creative ways of organizing their material—memoirs that go beyond or subvert the conventional, straightforward, chronological approach. After all, our memories are often scattered, fragmented, interrupted, non-linear, or just bizarre; memoirs that capture not only the person’s lived experience but also the messiness of memory itself feel more powerful and true to me. 

I wrote...

Sounds Like Titanic: A Memoir

By Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman,

Book cover of Sounds Like Titanic: A Memoir

What is my book about?

When aspiring violinist Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman lands a job with a professional ensemble in New York City, she imagines she has achieved her lifelong dream. But the ensemble proves to be a sham. When the group “performs,” the microphones are never on. Instead, the music blares from a CD. The mastermind behind this scheme is a peculiar and mysterious figure known as The Composer, who is gaslighting his audiences with music that sounds suspiciously like the Titanic movie soundtrack. On tour with his chaotic ensemble, Hindman spirals into crises of identity and disillusionment as she “plays” for audiences genuinely moved by the performance, unable to differentiate real from fake.

Sounds Like Titanic is a surreal, often hilarious coming-of-age story. Written with precise, candid prose and sharp insight into ambition and gender.

In Broad Daylight

By Harry N. MacLean,

Book cover of In Broad Daylight: A murder in Skidmore, Missouri

This isn't a novel but a true crime narrative, a depiction of a man named Ken McElroy gunned down on the main street of a small Missouri town in, well, broad daylight. No witnesses. No suspects. Well, the whole town, the whole county, are suspects. This guy raped very young girls then got them to marry him, shot people, stole cattle and equipment, burned down houses. This book was a jolt to me because my wife is from that area, an area I, a man who's spent most of my life in urban areas, had always thought bucolic, filled with amiable, honest, peaceful people. I started looking at the natives in a different light after this. And, not to freak anybody out here, chances are pretty good there’s been a terrible crime, if you’re lucky an unsolved one, committed not very far at all from where you are right now.

Who am I?

I’m the author of the Peter Pike private eye series. Pike regularly tangles with psychos; you can’t have crime novels without them. Why? People love psychos. Psychos horrify and fascinate us. Do we wish we could be them? Maybe. The best psychos are outwardly lovable and charming and get whatever they want, making you laugh and shudder at the same time. Wish fulfillment? Fantasy? Subconscious longings? Again, maybe. I know such fiction lets you dive deeply into what’s now called transgressive territory without consequences. Does fiction get any better than that?

I wrote...

Peter Pike and the Revenge of the Romanovs

By Neal W. Fandek,

Book cover of Peter Pike and the Revenge of the Romanovs

What is my book about?

Fabergé eggs. So small, so perfect, so golden, so priceless. So deadly.

Private eye Peter Pike and his sleuth-librarian fiancée Greta learn just how deadly when the Third Imperial Egg turns up in the Mississippi River town of Punica, Mo. Now it’s up to Pike and Greta to find the egg before a modern-day Rasputin, the actor Robert DeXero, a psycho cop, a shady college president and the Russian mob turn their world inside out. As the body count builds, Pike and Greta must find a way to keep their love alive – and stay alive. Based on true events: the Third Imperial Egg was lost after the Russian Revolution and only surfaced ten years ago in a Midwestern junk shop.

Boy Toy

By Barry Lyga,

Book cover of Boy Toy

Boy Toy is a book that stands out for me because it tackles a rarely discussed subject in young adult literature—the sexual abuse of boys. In this case, the protagonist, Josh, was molested by a teacher when he was younger. Now that he is about to graduate from high school, the repercussions of that abuse, along with the everyday stress he deals with, is coming back to haunt him. Lyga handles this subject matter in an unflinching and realistic way, which can be uncomfortable at times. That said, Boy Toy is definitely a worthwhile, original read.

Who am I?

As a former teen who faced my own slew of challenges, I became a YA author who writes about teen characters who do the same. It’s not easy being an adolescent these days: From the seeming hopelessness of some social, academic, and family situations to the lack of support many teens receive, things can seem pretty bleak at times. As the protagonists in books like the ones I’ve mentioned here show us, however, there are many good people out there who are willing to help if we’re willing to hang in there and keep pushing forward toward a better day and a better life.

I wrote...

100 Days

By Nicole McInnes,

Book cover of 100 Days

What is my book about?

Agnes doesn't know it, but she only has one hundred days left to live. When she was a baby, she was diagnosed with Progeria, a rare disease that causes her body to age at roughly ten times the normal rate. Agnes has already exceeded her life expectancy. Moira has been Agnes’s best friend and protector since they were in elementary school. Due to her disorder, Agnes is still physically small, but Moira is big. Too big for her own liking. Boone was friends with both girls in the past, but that was a long time ago—before he did the thing that turned Agnes and Moira against him.

An unexpected event brings Agnes and Moira back together with Boone, but when romantic feelings start to develop, the trio’s friendship is put to the test. 

Break the Fall

By Jennifer Iacopelli,

Book cover of Break the Fall

I inhaled Break the Fall, set in the world of elite gymnastics. After an injury, Audrey is not only ready to return to gymnastics but does the impossible thing of qualifying for the Olympics. Finally, she’s on the cusp of achieving all that she’s dreamed of and trained for all these years. Everything unravels, however, when their coach is accused of sexual assault. Iacopelli does a gorgeous job capturing all of the highs and lows of this story, as well as the intensity of elite athletics. While we don’t typically think of gymnastics as a team sport, I was especially appreciative of the way Iacopelli showed the girls standing up for each other as a team, which is rare in YA girls’ sports books. 

Who am I?

I adore books about sporty badass girls. Yet, when I first began to write Dangerous Play, there were few young-adult novels featuring fierce sporty girls. Of those, there were fewer which portrayed the powerful friendships that can emerge on girls’ sports teams. I want to read and write about girls who are defined by more than their love interests, who are dogged in the pursuit of their goals. In a world that so often judges girls by how their bodies look, sports offers an arena in which girls can view and value their bodies in an alternative way. And who doesn’t love to cheer for someone who beats the odds? 

I wrote...

Dangerous Play

By Emma Kress,

Book cover of Dangerous Play

What is my book about?

Zoe Alamandar has one goal: win the State Field Hockey Championships and earn a scholarship that will get her the hell out of Central New York. She and her co-captain Ava Cervantes have assembled a fierce team of dedicated girls who will work hard and play by the rules.

But after Zoe is sexually assaulted at a party, she finds a new goal: make sure no girl feels unsafe again. Zoe and her teammates decide to stop playing by the rules and take justice into their own hands. Soon, their suburban town has a team of superheroes meting out punishments, but one night of vigilantism may cost Zoe her team, the championship, her scholarship, and her future.

Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe

By James A. Brundage,

Book cover of Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe

If you ever want to know what the medieval Church had to say about sex, love, marriage, and other related topics, you only need to draw from the relevant preachers’ manuals and Church lawbooks, which illuminate the entire spectrum of human failings which the Church condemned and punished in specific terms. It might be hilarious at times, but Brundage clearly unearths the concrete rules for the ordinary people when they were allowed to have sex during the year and under what conditions. Moreover, this is an eye-opening book about the official view of queerness in the Middle Ages.

Who am I?

I'm a medievalist with a focus on German and European literature. Already with my Ph.D. diss. in 1987, I endeavored to explore interdisciplinary, interlingual connections (German-Italian), and much of my subsequent work (119 scholarly books so far) has continued with this focus. I have developed a large profile of studies on cultural, literary, social, religious, and economic aspects of the pre-modern era. In the last two decades or so, I have researched many concepts pertaining to the history of mentality, emotions, everyday-life conditions, and now also on transcultural and global aspects before 1800. Numerous books and articles have dealt with gender issues, communication, and historical and social conditions as expressed in literature. 

I wrote...

Tracing the Trails in the Medieval World: Epistemological Explorations, Orientation, and Mapping in Medieval Literature

By Albrecht Classen,

Book cover of Tracing the Trails in the Medieval World: Epistemological Explorations, Orientation, and Mapping in Medieval Literature

What is my book about?

Every human being knows that we are walking through life following trails, whether we are aware of them or not. Medieval poets, from the anonymous composer of Beowulf to Marie de France, Hartmann von Aue, Gottfried von Strassburg, and Guillaume de Lorris to Petrarch and Heinrich Kaufringer, predicated their works on the notion of the trail and elaborated on its epistemological function. We can grasp here an essential concept that determines much of medieval and early modern European literature and philosophy, addressing the direction which all protagonists pursue, as powerfully illustrated also by the anonymous poets of Herzog Ernst and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Dante’s Divina Commedia, in fact, proves to be one of the most explicit poetic manifestations of the fundamental idea of the trail.

City of Dreadful Delight

By Judith R. Walkowitz,

Book cover of City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London

This is Victorian London, a city of dynamic growth, extreme class divisions, obsessions with public sexual danger and pathology, growing anxiety in the face of so much that is unknown and uncertain, and moralizing campaigns for reform. Not least, and the book ends with this story, this is the city of Jack the Ripper. Sometimes Walkowitz is densely analytical, for she is skillful as both storyteller and theorist. In both genres, the experience of modernity is central, as are questions about the body and the self, ethnicity, class, and morality. The city that emerges, in all its dread and delight, is a story that inspires us to think about other cities, other streets, other scandals, and other modernities, including our own.

Who am I?

I grew up in San Francisco and worked in New York City in the 1970s as a taxi driver and printing apprentice, and, after getting a doctorate at UC Berkeley, taught at Harvard, Yale, and the University of Illinois. Most of my publications and teaching have been about Russian history—I've written books on labor relations, working-class writers, the Russian Revolution, St. Petersburg, and utopias. I've been teaching comparative urban history for several years and am writing a new book on urban storytelling about street life, nightlife, and morality in Soviet Odessa, colonial Bombay, and New York City in the 1920s and 1930s. I recently retired and live in New York City and Turin, Italy.

I wrote...

Russian Utopia: A Century of Revolutionary Possibilities

By Mark D. Steinberg,

Book cover of Russian Utopia: A Century of Revolutionary Possibilities

What is my book about?

In my newest book, Russian Utopia: A Century of Revolutionary Possibilities, by “utopia” I mean less of an appealing but impossible fantasy about a nonexistent place or time than a critical method to question and transform reality toward what people believed ought to be. I look at utopian ideas and practices in Russia from the eighteenth century into the twentieth, among cultural elites and laboring commoners, in the halls of power and on the streets of resistance.

Naturally, most of the people in my book insisted they were not utopians in the sense of impossible dreaming, but partisans of radical possibility. One chapter examines efforts to imagine and create “new cities” that would be redemptive and liberating of the human body and spirit. Other chapters consider wings and human flight as visions of transcendent possibility, ideas about the “new man” and the “new woman,” and political power and dissent.

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