Synopses & Reviews
In the first half of the twentieth century, Americans' intense concern with sex crimes against children led to a wave of public discussion, legislative action, and criminal prosecution. Stephen Robertson provides the first large-scale, long-term study of how American criminal courts dealt with the prosecution of sexual violence.
Robertson describes how the nineteenth-century approach to childhood as a single phase of innocence began to shift at the end of the century to include several stages of childhood development, prompting reformers to create legal categories such as statutory rape and carnal abuse to protect children. However, while ordinary New Yorkers' involvement in the prosecution of those offenses reshaped their understandings of who was a child and produced a new concern to establish the age of their sexual partners, their beliefs in childhood innocence and in a concept of sexuality centered on sexual intercourse remained unchanged. As a result, families' use of the law and jurors' decisions ultimately diminished the protection the new laws offered to children. Robertson's study, based on the previously unexamined files of the New York County district attorney's office, reveals the importance of child sexuality and sex crimes in twentieth-century American culture.
"Fascinating and disturbing in its particulars, full of careful and illuminating readings of sources."
Law and History Review
"A landmark contribution to analyses of sexual violence and its prosecution in U.S. history."
Journal of the History of Sexuality
Robertson's study, based on the previously unexamined files of the New York County district attorney's office, reveals the importance of child sexuality and sex crimes in twentieth-century American culture. He offers the first major study of the child protection movement's law enforcement work and the prosecution of sexual violence in American criminal courts in the first half of the 20th century.
About the Author
Stephen Robertson is a lecturer in the department of history at the University of Sydney.