Child Sexual Abuse in London In The 17th Century
Child sexual abuse occurs when an adult uses a child as the object of their own sexual gratification. This can take many forms, but is always a violation of a young person’s rights, and increases the risk of many adverse physical and mental health conditions. Sexual abuse is a relatively common experience for children and young people, and affects tens of thousands of children and young teens every year. Contemporary awareness of child sexual abuse dates back only to the 1960s and 1970s, and studies on child molestation were non-existent until the 1920s. Yet archival and archaeological explorations have suggested that, in previous centuries, the physical and sexual abuse of young children proliferated in all cultures. The sexual abuse of young people has therefore existed for a long time, and has been considered a crime for centuries. Within London, these cases appeared before the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales, commonly known as the Old Bailey, which was first mentioned in 1585. The Old Bailey was a small court adjacent to Newgategaol, and hangings were a public spectacle in the street outside until 1868. Over 100,000 criminal trials were carried out at the Old Bailey between 1674 and 1834. Unfortunately, the sexual abuse of young people is still ongoing, bringing with it emotional and legal complexities. In the United Kingdom, the Crown Prosecution Service has clear legal guidelines on prosecuting child sexual abuse. However, many of these young people later present with emotional, behavioural and mental health difficulties, and their clinical care forms part of the role and remit of local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. As both a barrister and a child psychiatrist, I was therefore intrigued to learn that the Proceedings of the Old Bailey from 1674 to 1913 were now fully searchable online, containing 197,745 criminal trials held at London's central criminal court. A search for sexual offences committed between 1674 and 1700 identified 121 cases. Whilst bigamy was the most common, with entries relating to rape and sodomy, there were also 31 cases of child sexual abuse documented. The aim of this presentation is to explore the concept of child sexual abuse, and look back at its history. This will include some of the relevant English legislation relating to child molestation, and the most recent prosecution guidance. It will also explore some of the cases from the late 17th Century against the backdrop of modern legal proceedings and child mental health practice.