“I WAS STANDING BETWEEN HER AND RUIN” – REGULATING AGE OF CONSENT IN LATE NINETEENTH-CENTURY ENGLAND

Courtroom Jenny Lind Building, Farrier St, Worcester WR1 3BB

A close up picture of the crest in the University of Worcester law Court

This Event is part of the School of Law Research Seminar Series.

The paper will focus on age of consent reform efforts in late Victorian England. The age of consent for girls for sexual activity outside marriage was reformed through different statutes in the late Victorian period, most notably in 1885 when the Criminal Law Amendment Act raised the age of consent to sex outside marriage from thirteen to sixteen. It remains sixteen today. All these measures applied exclusively to girls and there was no minimum age of consent for boys as such outside marriage, indicating that whereas sexual desire and consent for boys and men were constant, girls had to be protected by law.

This paper argues that the various age of consent reforms were not simply a way to create boundaries on maturity and female capacity. These reforms must also be seen in the context of wider social reform initiatives that focused on working-class families, and they were driven by concern over lack of moral fabric within working-class families. The paper draws form the earlier work of Judith Walkowitz and Deborah Gorham in particular on sexual danger, and shows that their notion of sexual danger has to be also understood in the context of social class and family relations. Drawing from archival records, case law, and parliamentary papers, the paper adds to scholarship on legal and women’s history of moral regulation. The paper is part of a larger collaborative project which focuses on regulation of age of consent in the British Empire.

Dr Laura Lammasniemi is an Assistant Professor at Warwick School of Law. She lectures on criminal law and gender and the law. Her research focuses on criminal law, gender, and class, mainly from a historical perspective. She is writing a monograph on histories of anti-trafficking in England. Her current project is on age of consent, and she is a guest editor for Law and History Review on a special edition on Age of consent in the British Empire which will be published in 2020. She has recently started a new project that looks at narratives of female sexual consent in criminal courts 1880-1956.

 

To attend this event please contact Chris Monaghan on tel: 01905 542884 or email: c.monaghan@worc.ac.uk