Society-funded Research

Male Sexual Violence in Interwar Scotland

The Gunning Jubilee Gift was instrumental in funding data collection at National Records Scotland,

The Society of Antiquaries for Scotland’s second grant has enabled me to take two trips to Edinburgh this year, during which I was able to finalize data capture at the National Records (NRS) of High Court of Justiciary (HCJ) male-on-female sexual violence indictments (incest, rape, attempt to ravish and lewd and libidinous practices and behaviour), as well as beginning collection of male-on-male cases (sodomy).  My sources are NRS series: AD15, JC26 as well as Books of Adjournal and Minute Books.

Conclusions drawn from analysis of male-on-female sexual violence data for 1920s Scotland point to significant differences dependent on the type of indictment: age composition of victims, relationship to assaulters, loci of commission of crime and age composition of perpetrators.

Historically, incest was a crime committed not by step-fathers against step-daughters but predominantly by fathers of natural daughters aged between 13 and 16, many of whom started their crimes when the child was younger escalating the degree of sexual abuse once the girl reached puberty.  In the majority of cases, the mother was absent for some reason:  death, in hospital or assaults were timed to coincide with weekly visits to elderly parents; occasionally assaults were perpetrated in front of the mother and other family members.  This behaviour pattern indicates that fathers replaced absent spouses with their teenaged daughters and doing so while the mother was absent signifies the perpetrator’s understanding of the criminal, or taboo, nature of his activities.  Frequently, as well as sexual violence, physical violence was employed as coercive behaviour to enforce compliance.

The majority of incest cases show long-term, repeated assaults whether assaulters were fathers, brothers, uncles or grandfathers.  Victims rarely informed anyone after the first assault, inferring personal guilt or shame as has been argued by incest sociologist Judith Lewis Herman.  However, the agency of the mother, and in some cases of mature sisters, is important in detection and reporting of the abuse.  Once detected by a female relation or neighbour, recourse to the law was immediate.  Also, incest was largely an indoor crime for obvious reasons, and heavily concentrated in Glasgow.

Contemporary discourse on the causes of incest among the lower classes pointed to over-crowding, lack of privacy and a fundamental flaw in the people’s moral standards; but in reality incest appears to have been a personal choice, a matter of easy access to related females and reliance on their silence.  Scottish perpetrators could not use alcohol abuse as an excuse for their behaviour – the data do not support alcohol as mitigation; neither could they claim innocence of the law since their requirement for secrecy and silence proves they were cognizant of the penalties.  In fact, a wanton disregard for the law is shown by repeated assaults within the family and initiation of assaults once daughters turned thirteen.  Additionally, brothers’ indifference to the consequences of their actions  – more filial incest cases resulted in pregnancy than any other type – supports the argument that male authority was paramount in certain households and incest was the ultimate manifestation of that power.

When surveying non-familial sexual violence against females under sixteen years, it is evident that similar forces are at play, although significant differences are apparent.

Non-Familial Sexual Violence
Non-familial sexual violence is largely a crime against girls under 13 (mostly under 10 years), perpetrated either outdoors or indoors, but sadly, as with incest, predominantly committed in Glasgow.  The data includes rape, attempt to ravish and lewd and libidinous practices and behaviour tried at HCJ on circuit.  Of 101 rape cases tried at HCJ between November 1918 and December 1930, 48 were cases perpetrated on girls under sixteen years, totalling 76 victims, with only one case indicting multiple panels. Rape of minors was a single perpetrator crime, often against a single child, but frequently perpetrated against multiple victims.  Of 100 cases of attempt to ravish in the same date range, 70 men produced 110 alleged victims and none of the cases indicted multiple panels. Thus attempt to ravish was largely a single perpetrator-single victim crime.  The data shows lewd and libidinous to be clearly a sexual violence indictment used for minors because of a total of 303 victims from 152 cases, 298 victims were girls under sixteen years.  The difficulty of corroboration with under-age victims may have led the HCJ to indict on this lesser charge in an attempt to achieve a conviction albeit with a shorter sentence.

Non-familial sexual violence in this period is not ‘stranger rape’.  Perpetrators were neighbours, lodgers, shop-owners and men recognized around the community.  For example, in 1926 in Govan, a twenty-three-year-old raped and assaulted seven girls under thirteen years.  They all lived in the same neighbourhood and knew him.  Another in 1927 in Glasgow coerced his former landlady’s eleven-year-old to go on a tram ride to his home where he explained that his wife was out.  He sent her five-year-old sister for chocolate while he committed raped in private.

Descriptions of physical violence are absent from the precognitions for non-familial abuse.  Because of their established relationship, it was unnecessary for the accused men to injure or restrain their victims to commit their crime – they trusted them.

The data is clear that working-class men assaulted working-class girls in urban centres. Middle-class perpetrators and victims are absent from the records, the reasons for which include life-style differences, for example chaperoning of girls, as well as access to effective legal advice thus keeping men out of the courts.

Motive is impossible to ascertain from the HCJ files, however modern labels such as paedophilia could be attached to the majority of cases.  When rape of adult women is analysed, again stranger rape is rare.  The majority of adult cases indicate social rape – a young couple’s date gone too far.

Collection of male-on-male NRS data has begun with the help of last year’s grant, however until completed, detailed analysis is impossible.  The Gunning Jubilee Gift has been instrumental in funding data collection at NRS, which has been pivotal to the first stages of writing-up my thesis.

Louise Heren, 2018
University of St Andrews, School of History