‘Not an Exact Science’: Medical Approaches to Age and Sexual Offences in England, 1850-1914
Bates, Victoria Louise
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
The thesis draws upon court depositions which include detailed descriptions of sensitive criminal offences. It uses some records that are closed to the general public. I have signed a confidentiality agreement with three record offices (Devon, Somerset and Gloucestershire) for permission to use the records, part of which involves an agreement not to make any sensitive material available online or to publish any material from the records. The thesis therefore requires an embargo until 2015, when the records will have been closed for 100 years and will become ‘open access’ to the general public.
This thesis examines medical approaches to sexual offences in England between 1850 and 1914, with particular attention to law-making and judicial processes. It addresses two key research questions. Firstly, what was the place of medicine in shaping the law on sexual consent and in the implementation of laws on sexual crime? Secondly, can the analytical category of age be used to understand such medical roles? In addressing the first research question, the thesis shows that relationships between medicine, the law and wider society can be understood in terms of negotiation and shared pools of knowledge rather than impact. It demonstrates that medical ideas on sexual crime and sexual consent were deemed sufficiently valuable to be drawn upon widely by different groups, but they were not imposed ‘from above’ by a coherent medical profession. Medical roles thus need to be studied and understood rather than either oversimplified as ‘dominant’ or dismissed as non-existent. In addressing the second research question, the thesis argues that age has been unduly overlooked as a category of analysis in historiography. It shows that ideas about sexual crime shifted in relation to victims of different ages and that age can productively be situated in relation to other analytical categories, particularly class and gender. By moving beyond treating ‘children’ and ‘adults’ as homogeneous categories, this study opens up new ways of understanding histories of medico-legal relations and sexual crime.
PhD in Medical History