The best books on sexual violence

1 authors have picked their favorite books about sexual violence and why they recommend each book.

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Texts of Terror

By Phyllis Trible,

Book cover of Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives

Published in 1984, this book is an enduring classic. Filled with sympathy for victims and survivors, it is a groundbreaking, poignant feminist reading of biblical “texts of terror” about violence against women who were raped, enslaved, ritually sacrificed, or forced to become surrogate mothers. This book transformed the way people now read stories of biblical violence. It calls on readers to acknowledge and remember the suffering of victims—in biblical times and in our own. 

Texts of Terror

By Phyllis Trible,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Professor Trible focuses on four variations upon the theme of terror in the Bible. By combining the discipline of literary criticism with the hermeneutics of feminism, she reinterprets the tragic stories of four women in ancient Israel: Hagar, Tamar, an unnamed concubine, and the daughter of Jephthah. In highlighting the silence, absence, and opposition of God, as well as human cruelty, Trible shows how these neglected stories interpreted in memoriam challenge both the misogyny of Scripture and its use in church, synagogue, and academy.


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 With concern for female and male victims of violence, Schroeder scrutinizes historical documents to find accounts of harassment, rape, clergy sexual abuse, and other violence.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. 


I wrote...

Dinah's Lament: The Biblical Legacy of Sexual Violence in Christian Interpretation

By Joy Schroeder,

Book cover of Dinah's Lament: The Biblical Legacy of Sexual Violence in Christian Interpretation

What is my book about?

Dinah’s Lament explores heartbreaking biblical stories of sexual violence that were misinterpreted by Christian interpreters in antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation. Through the centuries, male interpreters interpreted and retold these scriptural stories in ways that revealed their own cultural assumptions about rape.

All too often, clergymen blamed victims or minimized the reality of the violence the women endured. In sermons and biblical commentaries, interpreters accused the young rape victim Dinah (Genesis 34) of provoking and enjoying a brutal attack by a powerful prince’s son. Some denied that the encounter was actually rape. In the case of an unnamed woman (Judges 19) who suffered collective rape (“gang rape”) and died following the violence, some commentators believed that the attack was God’s fitting punishment for sins she committed. Too often, the female biblical character is voiceless—emblematic of the silencing of victims throughout history. 

Book cover of The Narrative of Rape in Genesis 34: Interpreting Dinah's Silence

The twelve sons of the biblical patriarch Jacob had a sister named Dinah who was abducted and raped by the son of a prince (Genesis 34). Dinah speaks no words in the biblical text. Caroline Blyth gives voice to Dinah by examining the words of modern women from around the globe, comparing Dinah’s experience with that of her modern-day sisters. With a poignant, sensitive reading of the Bible and the testimonies of women living today, Blyth exposes and rejects dangerous myths and stereotypes about sexual violence.

The Narrative of Rape in Genesis 34

By Caroline Blyth,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Narrative of Rape in Genesis 34 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This innovative study explores the interconnectedness of ancient and current attitudes towards sexual violence, focusing upon the representation of rape in the biblical narrative of Genesis 34.

Caroline Blyth takes the reader on a journey through both biblical and contemporary cultures, contemplating the commonality and diversity of rape survivors' experiences across space and time. In particular, Blyth evaluates the insidious and pervasive influences of the cultural myths and misperceptions surrounding sexual violence, which have long served to deny rape survivors a voice with which to relate their narrative of suffering. Blyth examines whether such 'rape myths' are likewise given
voice…


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. 


I wrote...

Dinah's Lament: The Biblical Legacy of Sexual Violence in Christian Interpretation

By Joy Schroeder,

Book cover of Dinah's Lament: The Biblical Legacy of Sexual Violence in Christian Interpretation

What is my book about?

Dinah’s Lament explores heartbreaking biblical stories of sexual violence that were misinterpreted by Christian interpreters in antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation. Through the centuries, male interpreters interpreted and retold these scriptural stories in ways that revealed their own cultural assumptions about rape.

All too often, clergymen blamed victims or minimized the reality of the violence the women endured. In sermons and biblical commentaries, interpreters accused the young rape victim Dinah (Genesis 34) of provoking and enjoying a brutal attack by a powerful prince’s son. Some denied that the encounter was actually rape. In the case of an unnamed woman (Judges 19) who suffered collective rape (“gang rape”) and died following the violence, some commentators believed that the attack was God’s fitting punishment for sins she committed. Too often, the female biblical character is voiceless—emblematic of the silencing of victims throughout history. 

Rape

By Joanna Bourke,

Book cover of Rape: A History From 1860 To The Present

This book is one of several by Bourke that are useful for the comparative study of violence, though they are often chilling to read. Bourke has an impressive range as a historian, as well as the tremendous backbone needed to do research on extremely difficult topics.

Rape

By Joanna Bourke,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Joanna Bourke, author of the critically-acclaimed Fear, unflinchingly and controversially moves away from looking at victims to look at the rapists. She examines the nature of rape, drawing together the work of criminologists, sociologists and psychiatrists to analyse what drives the perpetrators of sexual violence.

Rape - A History looks at the perception of rape, both in the mass media and the wider public, and considers the crucial questions of treatment and punishment. Should sexual offenders be castrated? Will Freud's couch or the behaviourists' laboratory work most effectively? Particular groups of offenders such as female abusers, psychopaths and exhibitionists are…


Who am I?

I am a biblical scholar who has become a historian of violence because I could no longer ignore the realities of the present or my own past. I write of violence for my childhood self, who was bullied for a decade and used to run away from school.  I write of it for my grandfather, who was born of exploitation.  I write of it for my African-American wife and daughter, in the hopes that I might contribute to the elimination of hierarchies that threaten their dignity and sometimes their lives.  Doing this work is not just intellectual for me—it is a memorialization and a ritual of healing. 


I wrote...

Violence and Personhood in Ancient Israel and Comparative Contexts

By T.M. Lemos,

Book cover of Violence and Personhood in Ancient Israel and Comparative Contexts

What is my book about?

In the first book-length work ever written on personhood in ancient Israel, I reveal widespread intersections between violence and personhood in this society and the wider region. Relations of domination and subordination were incredibly important to the culture of ancient Israel, with these relations often determining the boundaries of personhood itself. Personhood was malleable—it could be and was violently erased in many social contexts. This study exposes a violence-personhood-masculinity nexus in which domination allowed those in control to animalize and brutalize the bodies of subordinates.

Sacred Witness

By Susanne Scholz,

Book cover of Sacred Witness: Rape in the Hebrew Bible

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.

Sacred Witness

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.


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. 


I wrote...

Dinah's Lament: The Biblical Legacy of Sexual Violence in Christian Interpretation

By Joy Schroeder,

Book cover of Dinah's Lament: The Biblical Legacy of Sexual Violence in Christian Interpretation

What is my book about?

Dinah’s Lament explores heartbreaking biblical stories of sexual violence that were misinterpreted by Christian interpreters in antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation. Through the centuries, male interpreters interpreted and retold these scriptural stories in ways that revealed their own cultural assumptions about rape.

All too often, clergymen blamed victims or minimized the reality of the violence the women endured. In sermons and biblical commentaries, interpreters accused the young rape victim Dinah (Genesis 34) of provoking and enjoying a brutal attack by a powerful prince’s son. Some denied that the encounter was actually rape. In the case of an unnamed woman (Judges 19) who suffered collective rape (“gang rape”) and died following the violence, some commentators believed that the attack was God’s fitting punishment for sins she committed. Too often, the female biblical character is voiceless—emblematic of the silencing of victims throughout history. 

Shout

By Laurie Halse Anderson,

Book cover of Shout

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.

Shout

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.

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…


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.

The Shadow Knows

By Diane Johnson,

Book cover of The Shadow Knows

A first-person novel published in 1974, this wry, low-key thriller, quietly shattering, slaloms through marriage and infidelity, prosperity and poverty, motherhood and neglect. I first came across The Shadow Knows shortly after it was published, turned the pages at speed, and in my head argued furiously with the protagonist all the way through. Re-reading it forty years later, I was still aghast, and just as mesmerized. I think it’s safe to say the narrator’s response to sexual violence—like much else in this book—would be impossible to publish in the present; it is as revelatory about our moment as about the one in which it was written and set. 

The Shadow Knows

By Diane Johnson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A series of violent happenings add to a young woman's conviction that she is going to be murdered


Who am I?

I write about contemporary art, and much of the work I’ve been drawn to was made by women and by artists in other sidelined communities. Early on, I also focused on marginalized disciplines: artists’ books, performance, and art that responded directly to the vacant sites that abounded in New York City when I started out in the late 1970s. It was an enormously exciting time, but also a tough one. Violence was very hard to avoid. I didn’t focus on that at the time, but ultimately, I realized I needed to look more directly at trouble, and how artists respond to it.  


I wrote...

Unspeakable Acts: Women, Art, and Sexual Violence in the 1970s

By Nancy Princenthal,

Book cover of Unspeakable Acts: Women, Art, and Sexual Violence in the 1970s

What is my book about?

During the famously violent 1970s, the incidence of sexual assault spun out of control, with surprisingly little attention. The women’s movement of the time was great at challenging injustice in the workplace and at home, but initially tiptoed around rape. It was artists who first spoke out, quietly at first, soon with bullhorns. Yoko Ono was the moment’s magnetic if ambivalent herald; Nancy Spero its lacerating poet; Suzanne Lacy its fearless activist. Today sexual assault is routinely in the headlines, but confusion still abounds over whom it most affects, how best to confront it—and even how to define it. Along with illuminating these issues, Unspeakable Acts heeds younger artists who have looked at how rape is inseparably entwined with issues of race and class.  

Redefining Rape

By Estelle B. Freedman,

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

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. 

Redefining Rape

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…


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. 


I wrote...

Book cover of Free Thinker: Sex, Suffrage, and the Extraordinary Life of Helen Hamilton Gardener

What is my book about?

Free Thinker tells the remarkable story of the “fallen woman” who, rather than slink away in shame, reinvented herself and died as the highest-ranking woman in the U.S. government. When Ohio newspapers published the story of Alice Chenoweth’s premarital affair, she changed her name to Helen Hamilton Gardener, moved to New York, and devoted her life to championing women’s rights and decrying the sexist double standard. Gardener eventually settled in Washington, D.C., where she became "the most potent factor" in the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.

Free Thinker is the first biography of Gardener. This biography exposes the racism that underpinned the women’s suffrage movement and the contradictions of Gardener’s politics. Free Thinker is the story of a woman whose struggles resound in today’s fight for bodily and political autonomy.

Still Beating

By Jennifer Hartmann,

Book cover of Still Beating

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.

Still Beating

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…


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. 


I wrote...

The Truth About Adira

By Anna Paulsen,

Book cover of The Truth About Adira

What is my book about?

The Truth About Adira is a story about second chances as well as a story of finding a type of love that shines a light into places that were once encompassed by utter darkness. This type of light is a guiding beacon that warms a heart that has learned to protect itself by isolating itself.

The Truth About Adira takes you on a journey of exploring the past while building a solid foundation in the present for the future. 

Mary and The Wrongs of Woman

By Mary Wollstonecraft,

Book cover of Mary and The Wrongs of Woman

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.

Mary and The Wrongs of Woman

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…


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.


I wrote...

The Fatal Coin: A Dan Foster novella

By Lucienne Boyce,

Book cover of The Fatal Coin: A Dan Foster novella

What is my book about?

In the winter of 1794 Bow Street Runner Dan Foster is assigned to guard a Royal Mail coach. The mission ends in tragedy when a young constable is shot dead by a highwayman calling himself Colonel Pepper. Dan is determined to bring Pepper to justice, but the trail runs cold. Four months later Dan is sent to Staffordshire to recover a recently excavated hoard of Roman gold which has gone missing. Here he unexpectedly encounters Colonel Pepper again. The hunt is back on, and this time Dan will risk his life to bring down Pepper and his gang. 


The Fatal Coin is a prequel novella to Bloodie Bones, the first full-length Dan Foster Mystery, which was joint winner of the Historical Novel Society Indie Award 2016.

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