Report Examines a Wave of Scrutiny Over Books on Sexual Violence and Rape

 (NEW YORK) — The number of individual books banned by schools is soaring to a record level, according to a new PEN America report Banned in the USA: Narrating the Crisis. The report documents over 4,000 instances of book banning during the first half of the current school year – more than in the entire previous 2022-2023 school year.

The report, which examines book bans from July to December 2023, details book bans in 52 public school districts across 23 states. Bans took place in both red and blue districts.

PEN America has documented over 10,000 bans over the last two and a half years (July 2021 to December 2023).

While censors continue to use the concept of “obscenity” to justify widespread books bans, the report examines a wave of intense scrutiny over books that discuss women, sexual violence, and rape. This concerted focus comes amid an epidemic of sexual violence in the United States. The report also finds that books discussing race and racism, LGBTQ+ and especially transgender identities continue to be targeted at consistently high rates.

“For anyone who cares about the bedrock of American values and the protection of free expression, this report should be a red alert,” said Sabrina Baêta, Freedom to Read program manager at PEN America and a lead author of the report. “Book bans are targeting narratives about race and sexual identities and sexual content writ large, and they show no sign of stopping. The bans we’re seeing are broad, harsh, and pernicious–and they’re undermining the education of millions of students across the country.”

By the numbers, Florida continues to boast the highest number of bans with 3,135 bans across 11 school districts, but the report documents how book bans are increasing in other states:

  • Wisconsin experienced 481 bans across three school districts – with one sole school district banning 444 books following a single parents’ challenge;
  • Iowa experienced 142 bans in three school districts;
  • Texas experienced 141 bans across four school districts;
  • Kentucky and Virginia experienced at least 100 bans each; in Kentucky, Boyle County Schools alone removed 106 books; and in Virginia, bans occurred across three school districts.

At the same time that bans are increasing, formalized resistance to censorship is growing. Across the country, students are staging protests and read-ins, founding after-school banned book clubs; working with teachers to distribute books under the radar; creating funds to purchase new books for districts impacted by bans; and installing free community bookshelves throughout their towns.

“Students are at the epicenter of the book banning movement, and they’re fearlessly spearheading the fight against this insidious encroachment into what they can read and learn across the country,” said Kasey Meehan, Freedom to Read Program Director at PEN America. “By suppressing these stories, censors seek to delegitimize experiences that resonate deeply with young people. Just as we’ve seen the power of America’s youth in rallying around causes such as gun violence prevention, they’re refusing to yield to the censorship of book bans threatening their peers and communities.” 

This report expands on PEN America’s work on the spread of educational censorship in America’s schools, showing the rapid evolution and intensification of book-banning across the country since the 2022-2023 Banned in the USA report.

PEN America defines a school book ban as any action taken against a book based on its content and as a result of parent or community challenges, administrative decisions, or in response to direct or threatened action by lawmakers or other governmental officials, that leads to a previously accessible book being either completely removed from availability to students, or where access to a book is restricted or diminished.

Join PEN America in defending the freedom to read by taking action to #FreeTheBooks and making your voice heard.


About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057