conférence Julien Bonhomme

The Sex Thieves: The Anthropology of a Rumor


Julien Bonhomme, anthropologist, has been a lecturer at Ecole normale supérieure for 10 years. He now is “Directeur d’études” (full professor) at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) and co-director of the Laboratoire d’anthropologie sociale.

The conference and debate with anthropologist Julien Bonhomme was held on Tuesday, May 9th, 2023.

Strangers are accused of stealing or shrinking people’s genitals during ordinary encounters in public spaces: a rumor that leads to violent reactions that can go as far as public lynching of the accused. The sex thieves rumor first appeared in the 70’s in Nigeria, before sporadically spreading for a period of 30 years in about 20 countries in West and Central Africa. In his book The Sex Thieves: The Anthropology of a Rumor, Julien Bonhomme shows how, with the sex thieves rumor, witchcraft stops being a local hearsay and becomes an urban, modern, and transnational rumor.

To understand such a phenomenon, the author sheds light on the very ordinary concerns on which rumor is based. He details the accusations and incidents as well as the various protagonists of “genital theft” cases: the alleged victims, mostly men; the accused, strangers or even foreigners who sometimes confess the theft to avoid public lynching; the crowd within which violent acts can emerge; and local authorities who try to restore public order as quickly as possible and avoid mob justice.

How and why does a rumor spread? Where is it discussed? How is it seen by different people? To explain how rumor appears, spreads, and disappears, the author analyses the mechanics of social communication and cultural transmission. He reveals the polyphonic nature of rumors, which create beliefs, raise doubts, and generate criticism. The anthropologist analyses the role played by the media, which documents the cases and labels them (as mystical events or as a crimes), but also spreads the rumor.

To cite this content :
Julien Bonhomme, “The Sex Thieves: The Anthropology of a Rumor”, 9 mai 2023, URL :

If you want to criticize or develop this content, you can find us on twitter or directly on our site.


Past events

photo conférence tous ceux qui tombent Conference

All Who Fall

05/17/2022 - 04:30 PM 06:30 PM Jérémie Foa

Conference and debate, May 17th, 2022, from 18:30 to 20:30 (Paris time), MSF (14-34 avenue Jean Jaurès, 75019 Paris). The conference was livestreamed and translated simultaneously to English.

Read more
image conférence reconstructing lives Conference

Reconstructing Lives

02/17/2022 - 05:30 PM 07:30 PM Vanja Kovacic

The members of the Crash team were happy to welcome you all to an online conference-debate with anthropologist Vanja Kovačič, on Thursday 17th of February, at 6:30PM. The conference was in English and simultaneously translated into French. The author introduced her recently-published book "Reconstructing lives Victims of war in the Middle East and Médecins Sans Frontières" (Manchester University Press, translated in French and Arabic.)  

Read more
conv yves clot Conference

Another approach to well-being at work

12/09/2021 - 05:30 PM 07:30 PM Yves Clot Jean-Yves Bonnefond

The members of the Crash were very happy to welcome you all to this new conference-debate with occupational psychologists Yves Clot and Jean-Yves Bonnefond, two of the authors of “Le prix du travail bien fait – La coopération conflictuelle dans les organisations” (Paris, La Découverte, 2021 ; co-written with Antoine Bonnemain and Mylène Zittoun).

Read more
conf violences extrêmes msf Conference

Book launch event - Violences extrêmes. Enquêter, secourir, juger République démocratique du Congo, Rwanda, Syrie

11/17/2021 - 05:30 PM 07:30 PM Jean-Hervé Bradol

We were very happy to welcome two authors of the book: sociologist (CNRS) and Crash scientific committee member Claudine Vidal, and Jean-Hervé Bradol, doctor, former President of the French section of MSF and current director studies at the Crash, for the launching event of the newly-published book “Violences extrêmes. Enquêter, secourir, juger République démocratique du Congo, Rwanda, Syrie” (Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, Paris 2021). The event was hosted by Rony Brauman.

Read more