Collection of 11 Bills and Acts Documenting the Legal Development of Sexual Consent and Associated Protections Against Assault Across Half a Century
London: Various, 1857-1909.
London: Various, 1857-1909. First editions. Eleven individual bills, acts, and amendments tracing the legal definition of sexual consent and its evolution from 1857 through 1909 amid social efforts to protect children, young adults, and women from coerced and forced sexual contact. Extremely scarce individually, eight of the pieces have no library holdings according to OCLC with the remaining three having between 1 and 3 libraries listing copies. In all, the collection represents a unique opportunity for researchers and scholars of gender history, disability studies, the history of sex work, and the history of marriage and property law to acquire and compare in one place the changing language and statutes surrounding consent, the extent to which these changes met the demands of feminist activists, and the degree to which these acts either failed in their protective missions or were used to control or oppress minority communities (including queer and disabled persons).
A complete list of titles and a full condition report is available on request. All items are in Near Fine to Fine condition.
In 1857, the House of Commons began efforts to update the age of consent as well as to define the "sound mind" required for sexual consent. During sessions in May and July of that year, A Bill to Extend the Law for the Protections of Young Females and Females of Unsound Mind as well as A Bill Intituled An Act to Consolidate and Amend the State Law of England Relating to Offences Against the Person were successfully enacted. In the case of the former, legislation redefined the age of consent as 14, and it required that any woman over age 14 must be in a sound state of mind for sexual acts to be deemed lawful and consensual. Punishments for abuse were heightened. Meanwhile, in the case of the latter legislation, previous bills providing women with bodily protection were drawn together in one place for the more efficient execution of the law against anyone deemed to engage in rape, molestation, abduction, forced marriage, bigamy, sodomy, and related acts. Notably, at this point, "carnal knowledge" was strictly limited to acts where "proof of penetration" was present; while this created significant disadvantage for survivors, previous requirements for proof of ejaculation were removed.
Within the next two decades, efforts continued to expand legal protections for assault survivors. By 1861, the laws began addressing physical abuse within marriages and families, which might lead to aggravated sexual assault or sexual coercion (Offences Against the Person Act); and a new category of "Indecent Assault" took into account non-penetrative sex acts as damaging to victims. The age of consent was again raised in 1873 via A Bill to Amend the Laws Relating to Seduction, this time to 16. And while punishments for numerous crimes were heightened (including life imprisonment and public whipping), the punishment for consensual sodomy was significantly reduced.
As one century shifted into the next, the courts continued to struggle defining rape and consent. And a new area of concern emerged more clearly: the difficulties of defining the "sound mind" necessary for consent and the means of protecting those who could not consent. To this end, in 1909, legislation was passed amending previous 1885 bills and acts. Through the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, for example, the House of Commons sought to account for vulnerable women with physical and mental disabilities who might be abused by sexual predators. Laws making Further Provision for the Protection of Certain Women From Cruelty also began addressing incestuous rape. As in past legislation, questions remained, however, about the extent to which this might also oppress or negatively affect people with disabilities who were capable of engaging in sexual relationships that might defy normative laws and traditions.
An exceptional collection of bills, acts, and amendments which provide details on the law's evolutions, and which open the door to comparative examination against each other and within the larger historical frameworks of feminist activism, ecclesiastical tradition, and widespread sex work. (Item #5374)