Added: July 12, 2001 – Last updated: December 3, 2016


Author: Louise Jackson

Title: The child's word in court

Subtitle: Cases of sexual abuse in London, 1870-1914

In: Gender and Crime in Modern Europe

Edited by: Margaret L. Arnot and Cornelie Usborne

Place: London

Publisher: UCL Press

Year: 1999

Pages: 222-237

Series: Women's and Gender History

ISBN-10: 1857287452 (hbk.) – Find a Library: Wikipedia, WorldCat | ISBN-10: 1857287460 (pbk.) – Find a Library: Wikipedia, WorldCat

Language: English

Keywords: Modern History: 19th Century, 20th Century | European History: English History | Prosecution: Trials / Victim Testimonies; Types: Child Sexual Abuse


Link: EBSCOhost (Restricted Access)


Author: Louise A. Jackson, School of History, Classics and Archaeology, University of EdinburghResearchGate

Abstract: »This chapter examines how, between 1870 and 1914, child victims in sexual abuse cases were treated in London's courts of law. Using witness depositions prepared for the Middlesex Sessions, together with newspaper accounts of cases coming before the Police Courts, County of London Sessions and Central Criminal Court, it focuses on the status, reception and treatment of boys' and girls' evidence in cases of rape, indecent assault and "unlawful carnal knowledge". Stories of abuse were rigorously tested in relation to notions of gender, class, childhood and reputation. While boy witnesses might be challenged as thieves or blackmailers, girls witnesses were cross-examined to establish sexual innocence or precocity; any evidence of delinquency was used to discredit the prosecution case. Since girlhood was defined as a period of innocence in contrast to the sexual experience and maturity associated with adulthood, then girls who possessed sexual knowledge were deemed "unnatural" and, indeed, threatening. As Linda Gordon has shown in her discussion of incest cases investigated by child protection agencies in Boston, USA, during the same period, victims of sexual abuse were frequently portrayed as morally polluted and potentially contaminating. In the courtroom the concept of "innocence" had a dual meaning since it could refer to both sexual innocence/experience and criminal innocence/guilt; in the consideration of sexual abuse cases, these two aspects were often conflated. There was an essential paradox involved in the consideration of the girl child's word as witness: if she really had been innocent before the alleged assault, she should not know enough about sex to describe what had happened to her; if she could not describe the assault with sufficient accuracy, then there was no case to answer.« (Source: Article)


  Legal status of the child witness (p. 223)
  Moral status of the child witness (p. 224)
  Cross-examination of girls (p. 228)
  The abuse of boys (p. 230)
  Conclusion (p. 234)
  Notes (p. 234)


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Wikipedia: History of Europe: History of England / Victoria era, Edwardian era | Types of rape: Child sexual abuse