The Eliza Armstrong Case: Being a Verbatim Report of the Proceedings at Bow Street. With Mr. Stead's Suppressed Defence

London: Pall Mall Gazette Office, 1885.

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A young woman's assault case is used to leverage for reform, and those reforms are deployed against minority communities including queer folks and sex workers

(Item #6072) The Eliza Armstrong Case: Being a Verbatim Report of the Proceedings at Bow Street. With Mr. Stead's Suppressed Defence. Sex Work, Sexual Abuse, William Thomas Stead.

The Eliza Armstrong Case: Being a Verbatim Report of the Proceedings at Bow Street. With Mr. Stead's Suppressed Defence

London: Pall Mall Gazette Office, 1885. First edition. Original printed wraps stapled at spine. Measuring 250 x 180mm and complete in 96 pages. Chipping, splitting, and loss along spine and corners of wraps. Light scattered foxing throughout, with heavier foxing to final four leaves and to fore-edge of closed text block. A follow-up and conclusion to William Stead's sensational expose of abuses within London's sex trade, this piece is scarce institutionally and in trade. While OCLC reports 4 copies in libraries, none appear in the modern auction record and the present is the only example on the market.

[TW: Sexual assault]

A pioneering journalist, William Stead rose to prominence with his 1885 exposès on widespread child abuse and human trafficking present in London's sex trade. In a series of articles titled A Maiden Tribute to Modern Babylon and released by the Pall Mall Gazette across the summer and fall of 1885, Stead described harrowing conditions, oftentimes with sensational language, using allusions to Greek mythology and the behaviors of those in the pantheon to depict criminal behaviors in brothels. Yet at other times, his descriptions of violence are shockingly frank and force 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.

The present work on the Eliza Armstrong case participates in Stead's larger project, humanizing and individualizing those girls Stead sought to aid. The charges brought against the perpetrator, a Mr. Vaughan, detail that he did take "Eliza Armstrong, an unmarried girl under the age of sixteen -- to wit, of the age of thirteen -- out of the possession and against the will of Charles Armstrong, her father, and Elizabeth Armstrong, her mother...for indecently assaulting Eliza Armstrong and conspiring" to perform a "certain noxious thing designed to injure, aggrieve, and annoy her" in addition to conspiring to allow other men to engage in the same abuse. The details of the Armstrong case as laid out here with specificity, drew a wide audience. While some readers sought out prurient sensation, more participated in public outcry and demanded reform. This lobbying quickly resulted in the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885, which raised the sexual age of consent for girls from 13 to 16 in addition to requiring a woman's informed consent (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 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).

A key reminder of the importance of intersectional activism, which recognizes the mutual protection needed by minority communities including all women, all LGBTQ+ people, and all sex workers. It is a history that was and continues to be repeated today, as people outside those communities try to wrest authority from them, insisting on a false dichotomy in which the protection of one group demands the disempowerment of another.
(Item #6072)

Price: $1,650 save 20% $1,320

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The Eliza Armstrong Case: Being a Verbatim Report of the Proceedings at Bow Street. With Mr. Stead's Suppressed Defence
The Eliza Armstrong Case: Being a Verbatim Report of the Proceedings at Bow Street. With Mr. Stead's Suppressed Defence
The Eliza Armstrong Case: Being a Verbatim Report of the Proceedings at Bow Street. With Mr. Stead's Suppressed Defence
The Eliza Armstrong Case: Being a Verbatim Report of the Proceedings at Bow Street. With Mr. Stead's Suppressed Defence
The Eliza Armstrong Case: Being a Verbatim Report of the Proceedings at Bow Street. With Mr. Stead's Suppressed Defence
The Eliza Armstrong Case: Being a Verbatim Report of the Proceedings at Bow Street. With Mr. Stead's Suppressed Defence