The most recommended books on sexual violence

Who picked these books? Meet our 9 experts.

9 authors created a book list connected to sexual violence, and here are their favorite sexual violence books.
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Book cover of Is Rape a Crime? A Memoir, an Investigation, and a Manifesto

Leigh Gilmore Author Of The #MeToo Effect: What Happens When We Believe Women

From my list on to understand sexual violence, healing, and justice.

Who am I?

I marvel at the resilience, tenacity, and optimism with which survivors and their advocates confront sexual violence. As a scholar of life writing, I find the “me too” movement to offer a fascinating case study of how survivors broke through default narratives of women’s unreliability and “he said/she said” to be heard by a massive global audience. By telling their own stories as “we said,” they tapped into a new collective credibility. Each of my recommended books helps us to understand “me too” as a powerful episode in a long struggle for survivor justice.

Leigh's book list on to understand sexual violence, healing, and justice

Leigh Gilmore Why did Leigh love this book?

Michelle Bowdler’s piercing question pinpoints the hypocrisy of laws that often favor abusers rather than those they harm. This happens so routinely that survivors speak of two assaults: the abuse itself and the revictimization as they seek justice.

Bowdler was the victim of a serial rapist in Boston whose break-ins and assaults terrorized the city. After Bowdler reported the attack, she was assured that the crime would be investigated. Nothing of the sort happened. Is Rape a Crime? pulls back the curtain on how sexual assault victims are treated by law enforcement and concludes with a powerful demand for change.

By Michelle Bowdler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Is Rape a Crime? A Memoir, an Investigation, and a Manifesto as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Longlisted for the 2020 National Book Award for Nonfiction
TIME's 100 Must-Read Books of 2020
Publishers Weekly, Best Books of 2020
New York Times New & Noteworthy Audiobooks
Lit Hubs Most Anticipated Books of 2020
Starred Review Publishers Weekly
Starred Review Shelf Awareness

"Is Rape a Crime? is beautifully written and compellingly told. In 2020, we were all looking for solutions and this book was right on time. It is one we should all be reading."
―Anita Hill

"This standout memoir marks a crucial moment in the discussion of what constitutes a violent crime."
―Publishers Weekly, Best Books of 2020…


Book cover of Redefining Rape: Sexual Violence in the Era of Suffrage and Segregation

Kimberly A. Hamlin Author Of Free Thinker: Sex, Suffrage, and the Extraordinary Life of Helen Hamilton Gardener

From my list on women fighting for bodily and political autonomy.

Who am I?

I was born in 1974 and grew up in a time when, at least on paper, women had equal rights. I also grew up not far from Harriet Tubman’s home, not far from Seneca Falls, not far from Susan B. Anthony’s house. I became a historian of women’s rights and, I sometimes joke, a secular evangelical for women’s history. Writing Free Thinker was, professionally, the most fun I have ever had. I can think of no better time than right now to study the histories of women who understood that bodily autonomy and political autonomy are two sides of the same coin and who dedicated their lives to securing both. 

Kimberly's book list on women fighting for bodily and political autonomy

Kimberly A. Hamlin Why did Kimberly love this book?

In my classes on women, sex, and gender, students almost always ask, “why have we never learned this before?” This is particularly true when it comes to the role of sexual violence in our nation’s history. Estelle Freedman’s pathbreaking book Redefining Rape documents how central sexual violence has been to U.S. history and law, and how women—particularly women of color—have fought against rape. Not only has sexual violence played a formative role in our history, a defining feature of U.S. jurisprudence is the racialization of rape—meaning the false idea that only Black men rape and only white women can be raped—when, in fact, as Freedman powerfully demonstrates, sexual violence has long been a tool of white supremacy. 

By Estelle B. Freedman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Redefining Rape as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Rape has never had a universally accepted definition, and the uproar over "legitimate rape" during the 2012 U.S. elections confirms that it remains a word in flux. Redefining Rape tells the story of the forces that have shaped the meaning of sexual violence in the United States, through the experiences of accusers, assailants, and advocates for change. In this ambitious new history, Estelle Freedman demonstrates that our definition of rape has depended heavily on dynamics of political power and social privilege.

The long-dominant view of rape in America envisioned a brutal attack on a chaste white woman by a male…


Book cover of Sacred Witness: Rape in the Hebrew Bible

Joy Schroeder Author Of Dinah's Lament: The Biblical Legacy of Sexual Violence in Christian Interpretation

From my list on sexual violence in the Bible.

Who am I?

Joy Schroeder is a historian devoted to examining the experiences of women in Christianity and Judaism. With concern for female and male victims of violence, Schroeder scrutinizes historical documents to find accounts of harassment, rape, clergy sexual abuse, and other violence. She brings the historical accounts to light while critiquing the cultural patterns that perpetuate violence in our own day. In her work as a pastor and as a professor, she has worked to support victims of harassment, sexual violence, domestic violence, and child abuse. Schroeder is a professor of church history at Capital University (Columbus, Ohio), where she teaches at Trinity Lutheran Seminary and the department of religion and philosophy. 

Joy's book list on sexual violence in the Bible

Joy Schroeder Why did Joy love this book?

Susanne Scholz says readers should consider biblical accounts of sexual violence to be “sacred witness” to the horrific reality of rape in the biblical world and in our own world. She proposes that we wrestle with the Bible’s words, including passages that depict God as a violent aggressor, and that we should read scriptural accounts in solidarity with victims, past and present.

By Susanne Scholz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sacred Witness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Sacred Witness, Susanne Scholz discusses the wide range of rape texts in biblical literaturesome that long have troubled readers, others that should have but didn't, such as texts of marital rape, for example, or metaphorical speech about God as rapist. Assuming the androcentric nature of these writings, Scholz asks how we may read these texts in order to find some redemptive meaning for women, children, and men who have been injured by sexual violence and by cultures of rape. Sacred Witness provides illuminating reflection on some of the most troubling texts in the Hebrew Bible.


Book cover of Still Beating

Anna Paulsen Author Of The Truth About Adira

From my list on romance that stay with you long after you finish.

Who am I?

Seeing couples that are still in love after being with one another for 50+ years has always warmed my heart. Seeing my grandparents hold one another’s hands and look at each other with love always made me hopeful to find such a love. I have not been blessed to have that kind of love in my life (yet) but that does not stop me from looking for it and finding it in books. The characters in my favorite books are ones I identify with on some level. They are loyal, do not give up and they love wholeheartedly, even if they make some missteps along the way, the end destination always ends up being deeply in love. And I love cheering on characters when they deal with everyday issues and roadblocks on this journey of love. 

Anna's book list on romance that stay with you long after you finish

Anna Paulsen Why did Anna love this book?

This romance caught me off guard. It was a dark romance about a kidnapped man and a woman. The heroine and her sister's fiancé who she disliked. I have to say this book isn’t for everyone as the sensitive subject matter is written about, such as rape and also a suicide attempt. However, because of Hartmann’s amazing way with words, I can’t stop thinking about this book and the characters. Hartmann’s exquisite writing style took me into the basement where the couple was kept. I felt fear and sadness for them. I felt hope. I felt so many things that left me confused at times, but as I was struggling with emotions, I found myself falling in love with these characters. This book was unlike any I have read before. It is a must-read.

By Jennifer Hartmann,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Still Beating as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WARNING: This book contains subject matter that may be sensitive for some readers, including dark and triggering content. 18+ only. Please read responsibly.
When Cora attends her sister’s birthday party, she expects at most a hangover or a walk of shame. She doesn’t anticipate a stolen wallet, leaving her stranded and dependent on Dean—her arch nemesis and ultimate thorn in her side.
And she really doesn’t anticipate waking up in shackles in a madman’s basement.
To make matters worse, Dean shares the space in his own set of chains.
After fifteen years of teasing, insults, and practical jokes, the ultimate…


Book cover of Fish: A Memoir of a Boy in a Man's Prison

Robert Uttaro Author Of To The Survivors: One Man's Journey as a Rape Crisis Counselor with True Stories of Sexual Violence

From my list on sexual violence, hope and healing.

Who am I?

God gave me a life-long calling to help anyone affected by sexual violence. Words often fail when I try to describe the pain that results from sexual abuse and what it truly means to me to make a positive difference in the lives of survivors. My heart and soul break for those who are suffering from evil crimes, and yet I continuously see people disclosing, expressing, growing, and healing. From my many years working as a counselor and advocate, I've learned that very often people just need someone to be with them and listen. I'm committed to supporting others in this area for as long as I can be helpful.

Robert's book list on sexual violence, hope and healing

Robert Uttaro Why did Robert love this book?

Fish is a powerful, detailed memoir about TJ Parsell’s incarceration in an adult prison as a teenager.

At the age of 17, Parsell chose to hold up a store with a toy gun, and that mistake led to horrific exploitation and sexual abuse by other inmates. This book deals with issues of gang rape, prison hierarchy, injustice, surviving behind bars, and Parsell’s growth into and embracing his own sexuality.

I felt sad and disgusted while reading it, however I learned so much and I believe this book is vitally important when thinking about prison systems, sentencing, and prison rape. Parsell was eventually released from prison, and he has dedicated so much of his life to prison reform, prevention of sexual violence, and helping survivors.  

By T. J. Parsell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fish as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When seventeen-year-old T. J. Parsell held up the local Photo Mat with a toy gun, he was sentenced to four and a half to fifteen years in prison. The first night of his term, four older inmates drugged Parsell and took turns raping him. When they were through, they flipped a coin to decide who would "own" him. Forced to remain silent about his rape by a convict code among inmates (one in which informers are murdered), Parsell's experience that first night haunted him throughout the rest of his sentence. In an effort to silence the guilt and pain of…


Book cover of Shout

Amber Smith Author Of The Way I Used to Be

From my list on me-too movement.

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.

Amber's book list on me-too movement

Amber Smith Why did Amber love this book?

For decades, Laurie Halse Anderson’s work has been a guiding light for so many young people in her honest portrayals of life’s hardest challenges, including sexual assault. Her 2019 book Shout, a memoir written in verse, is a deeply personal reflection on her own experience with sexual assault and its impact on her life. She first tackled this topic twenty years earlier in her groundbreaking 1999 novel, Speaka book that profoundly affected me as a young person. Born out of outrage over the lack of change that has happened in regard to how society treats survivors (and perpetrators) of sexual violence in the twenty years since Speak was published, Shout is a beautifully fierce and moving call to action for today.

By Laurie Halse Anderson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shout as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

Award-winning Speak author Laurie Halse Anderson's New York Times bestselling poetic memoir and call to action, which garnered eight starred reviews!

Bestselling author Laurie Halse Anderson is known for the unflinching way she writes about, and advocates for, survivors of sexual assault. Now, inspired by her fans and enraged by how little in our culture has changed since her groundbreaking novel Speak was first published twenty years ago, she has written a critically acclaimed poetry memoir that is as vulnerable as it is rallying, as timely as it is timeless. In free verse, Anderson shares reflections, rants, and calls to…


Book cover of I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced: A Memoir

Robert Uttaro Author Of To The Survivors: One Man's Journey as a Rape Crisis Counselor with True Stories of Sexual Violence

From my list on sexual violence, hope and healing.

Who am I?

God gave me a life-long calling to help anyone affected by sexual violence. Words often fail when I try to describe the pain that results from sexual abuse and what it truly means to me to make a positive difference in the lives of survivors. My heart and soul break for those who are suffering from evil crimes, and yet I continuously see people disclosing, expressing, growing, and healing. From my many years working as a counselor and advocate, I've learned that very often people just need someone to be with them and listen. I'm committed to supporting others in this area for as long as I can be helpful.

Robert's book list on sexual violence, hope and healing

Robert Uttaro Why did Robert love this book?

Where does one begin to write about forced child marriage and childhood sexual abuse?

In her own words, Nujood writes, “I’m a simple village girl who has always obeyed the orders of my father and brothers. Since forever, I have learned to say yes to everything. Today I have decided to say no.

Nujood Ali was sold by her family to a man who married her and continuously raped her before she even hit puberty. It is truly disturbing to read about the hell that Nujood endured, yet it is also astonishing and inspirational to see that she escaped and became Yemen’s first child bride to win a divorce. Nujood continues to be an international activist for Yemen and young girls all over the world, spreading light over evil. 

By Nujood Ali, Delphine Minoui, Linda Coverdale (translator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 13, 14, 15, and 16.

What is this book about?

“I’m a simple village girl who has always obeyed the orders of my father and brothers. Since forever, I have learned to say yes to everything. Today I have decided to say no.”
 
Nujood Ali's childhood came to an abrupt end in 2008 when her father arranged for her to be married to a man three times her age. With harrowing directness, Nujood tells of abuse at her husband's hands and of her daring escape. With the help of local advocates and the press, Nujood obtained her freedom—an extraordinary achievement in Yemen, where almost half of all girls are married…


Book cover of Mary and The Wrongs of Woman

Lucienne Boyce Author Of The Fatal Coin: A Dan Foster novella

From my list on historical stories about the common people.

Who am I?

I write historical fiction, non-fiction, and biography. My historical fiction is set in the eighteenth century, which is often pictured as a time when people swanned about in fancy clothes, lived on country estates, travelled in gleaming carriages, and dined and danced their nights away in glittering assembly rooms. But most people didn’t live like that at all, although they are the ones who made the clothes, worked on the estates, drove the carriages, cooked the food, and cleaned the rooms. The books on my list focus on history from their point of view. In my own work – fiction and non-fiction – I’m also interested in telling the stories of so-called “ordinary” people.

Lucienne's book list on historical stories about the common people

Lucienne Boyce Why did Lucienne love this book?

The eighteenth-century writer Mary Wollstonecraft is one of my literary heroines. This may not seem like the best book to pick as she died before she could finish it, but there’s enough here to make her personality – intelligent, trenchant, independent – shine through. It tells the story of upper-class Maria, imprisoned by her husband in a lunatic asylum; and working-class Jemima, an asylum attendant. Jemima was born out of wedlock and into poverty, and has suffered economic exploitation, sexual violence, hunger, and destitution. Jemima’s story forms only part of the novel, but the bond formed across the class divide between the two women is the catalyst for Maria to start to understand the roots of her own oppression.

By Mary Wollstonecraft,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mary and The Wrongs of Woman as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'I have lately written...a tale, to illustrate an opinion of mine, that a genius will educate itself.'

Mary Wollstonecraft is best known for her pioneering views on the rights of women to share equal rights and opportunities with men. Expressed most forcefully in her Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), her forthright opinions also inform her two innovative novels, Mary and The Wrongs of Woman, a fictional sequel to the Vindication. In both novels the heroines have to rely on their own resources to establish their independence and intellectual
development. Mary learns to take control of her destiny and…


Book cover of Raped Black Male: A Memoir

Robert Uttaro Author Of To The Survivors: One Man's Journey as a Rape Crisis Counselor with True Stories of Sexual Violence

From my list on sexual violence, hope and healing.

Who am I?

God gave me a life-long calling to help anyone affected by sexual violence. Words often fail when I try to describe the pain that results from sexual abuse and what it truly means to me to make a positive difference in the lives of survivors. My heart and soul break for those who are suffering from evil crimes, and yet I continuously see people disclosing, expressing, growing, and healing. From my many years working as a counselor and advocate, I've learned that very often people just need someone to be with them and listen. I'm committed to supporting others in this area for as long as I can be helpful.

Robert's book list on sexual violence, hope and healing

Robert Uttaro Why did Robert love this book?

I had the good fortune to meet Kenny Rogers at the Gaithersburg Book Festival and I was immediately struck by his kindness and gentle spirit.

Raped Black Male: A Memoir is a moving book that offers vivid details of his childhood rape, but the book is about more. Rogers also provides compelling fictional anecdotes and reflections on his internal struggles—from homelessness to what it means to be a black man in America.

Rogers is a powerful human being and his story is another reminder that a person can overcome the painful effects of sexual violence to live a healthy and productive life. 

By Kenneth Rogers Jr.,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Raped Black Male as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Raped Black Male tells my story of being homeless and struggling to overcome depression while coming to terms with being sexually assaulted by my sister at age eight. Beginning in my middle school years, the novel weaves its way through the '90s to present day, as the stress of exceeding expectations of what it means to be a black male and the crippling unspoken belief that says (without saying) - it's impossible for a man to be raped - has forced one mental breakdown after another, resulting in thoughts of suicide. This memoir is filled with depth, humor, and honesty…


Book cover of Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement

Leigh Gilmore Author Of The #MeToo Effect: What Happens When We Believe Women

From my list on to understand sexual violence, healing, and justice.

Who am I?

I marvel at the resilience, tenacity, and optimism with which survivors and their advocates confront sexual violence. As a scholar of life writing, I find the “me too” movement to offer a fascinating case study of how survivors broke through default narratives of women’s unreliability and “he said/she said” to be heard by a massive global audience. By telling their own stories as “we said,” they tapped into a new collective credibility. Each of my recommended books helps us to understand “me too” as a powerful episode in a long struggle for survivor justice.

Leigh's book list on to understand sexual violence, healing, and justice

Leigh Gilmore Why did Leigh love this book?

Tarana Burke is the woman behind the “me too” movement and Unbound is her story.

In 2017 when #MeToo shattered the myth that sexual violence is rare, Burke had already been building the movement for over a decade. Unbound traces her growth as a community organizer and the founder of a survivor movement rooted in empathy.

Although one goal of the book is to correct the record of the “me too” origin story, Burke is more interested in a larger notion of justice. She writes movingly of the pervasiveness and damage of sexual violence, including in her own life, and the promise of healing contained in the words “me too.”

By Tarana Burke,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Unbound as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the founder and activist behind one of the largest movements of the twenty-first century, the me too movement, Tarana Burke debuts a powerful memoir about her own journey to saying those two simple yet infinitely powerful words and how she brought empathy back to an entire generation

'Searing. Powerful. Needed.' Oprah

'I will never stop thinking about this book.' Glennon Doyle

Tarana didn't always have the courage to say me too. As a child, she reeled from her sexual assault, believing she was responsible. Unable to confess what she thought of as her own sins for fear of shattering…