London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1884. First edition. Bill 271 [47 & 48 Vict.] Brought from the Lords 23 June 1884. Ordered by the House of Commons to be printed 3 July 1884. Folio in self-wraps measuring 300 x 200m and tied with recent string; small archival paper reinforcement to foot of spine and trivial toning to edges, else unmarked. Complete in 8 pages. OCLC reports 12 institutionally held copies, with this being the only copy on the market.
[Accompanied by] An Act to Make Further Provision for the Protection of Women and Girls, the Suppression of Brothels, and Other Purposes. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1885. First edition. Criminal Law Amendment Act [48 & 49 Vict.] Folio in self wraps measuring 260 x 185mm and collating complete: ii, 9, . Occasional light foxing, but overall a clean example. OCLC reports 4 copies of the present act in libraries, with this being the only example on the market.
A pair of exceptionally scarce legal documents tracking the government's swift reaction to William Stead's graphic exposè on widespread child abuse and human trafficking present in London's sex trade. Within Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon, Stead's descriptions of violence are shockingly frank, forcing his Victorian readership to look sexual assault in the face. These are the moments that were most effective politically, drawing the support of conservative religious leaders, progressive social reformers, and liberal feminist groups alike. Together, they all decried a system where victims were "almost always very young children between thirteen and fifteen" who had been "marked out as fair game" by a society that decided that "the moment a child is thirteen she is a woman in the eye of the law" -- a law which "seems specially framed in order to enable dissolute men to outrage these legal women of thirteen with impunity" by providing an excessively loose definition of "consent." Stead's work motivated these groups to lobby for rapid change.
The results were these two pieces of legislation, brought to Parliament in 1884 and significantly expanded in 1885. In particular, the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 raised the previous bill's sexual age of consent for girls from 13 to 16 in addition to requiring a woman's informed consent for sex (thus making coercion, fraud, or the application of drugs fall within the legal definition of rape). Yet as with so many laws enacted for the protection of cis-gendered women, the Amendment Act also offered conservative groups a means for exerting control over communities of which they disapproved. In the name of protecting women and children, these representatives included in Section 11 legislation criminalizing "acts of gross indecency with male persons." The ambiguity of this section meant that while its overt purpose was to protect young women from "deviant" acts, it did not account for "whether the acts were committed by consenting adults in private" (Fize). Thus, the covert and more frequent use was to punish previously legal sex trade practices, or intimate contact among consenting LGBTQ+ people. In particular, "men who engaged in any homosexual activity were very easily blackmailed, and it became known as the 'Blackmail Charter'" until its dissolution in 1967 (BL). An opportunity to examine how the laws were changed and expanded -- to whose benefit and to whose detriment -- this pair of documents serve as a historical reminder of how patriarchal systems seek to divide groups that would gain strength if they lobbied together for their shared interests. (Item #4472)