"Precocious Girls": Age of Consent, Class and Family in Late Nineteenth-Century England

Laura Lammasniemi
2020 Law and History Review  
A fixed legal age of consent is used to determine when a person has the capacity to consent to sex yet in the late Victorian period the idea became a vehicle through which to address varied social concerns, from child prostitution and child sexual abuse to chastity and marriageability of working-class girls. This article argues that the Criminal Law Amendment Act (CLAA) 1885, the Act that raised the age of consent from thirteen to sixteen, and its application were driven by constructions of
more » ... er in conjunction with those of social class and working class family. The article firstly argues that CLAA 1885 and related campaigns reinforced class boundaries, and largely framed the working class family as absent, thereby, requiring the law to step in as a surrogate parent to protect the girl child. Secondly, the paper focuses on narratives emerging from the archives and argues that while narratives of capacity and protection in particular were key concepts behind reforms, the courts showed limited understanding of these terms. Instead, the courts focused on notions resistance, consent, and untrustworthiness of the victim, even when these concepts were not relevant to the proceedings due to victims' young age.
doi:10.1017/s073824802000005x fatcat:ke43scpifnbjrkfypnlilylx2m