Sexual Abuse: A Hidden History

Throughout the 20th century responses by Britons to the sexual abuse of children have been hindered by the desire to avoid scandal and blame the victim, argue Adrian Bingham, Lucy Delap, Louise Jackson and Louise Settle. 

Lilian Wyles, one of the first police officers to take statements from female and child assault victims.
Lilian Wyles, one of the first police officers to take statements from female and child assault victims.

Aneenee FitzGerald-Kenney, an Irish inspector of workhouses, wrote to the British National Vigilance Association in 1929, in despair at what to do with a 16-year-old who had been sacked from her job as a domestic servant. The girl had admitted to her employers that she had a history of being sexually abused. Remarkably, the abuse had led to a conviction: a rare outcome given that a child's uncorroborated evidence was rarely sufficient as evidence of a crime. In 1932 a campaigner against child sexual abuse estimated that 'not one case in twenty, if so many, is ever reported to the police'. In this Irish case, the long-standing nature of the abuse and the youth of the victim had led to a successful prosecution of 'a middle-aged man'. Nonetheless, the victim now had to live with the damage to her reputation and the after-effects of personal trauma. Her mistress was incensed at this evidence of 'bad character' and no longer wanted to employ her. FitzGerald-Kenney was forced to acknowledge that the girl, though 'quiet and willing', did tell lies: 'not infrequently, I think from nervous fear of being found at fault'.

To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.

Buy Online Access  Buy Print & Archive Subscription

If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.

Please email digital@historytoday.com if you have any problems.

 

X

Get Miscellanies, our free weekly long read, in your inbox every week