Society-funded Research

Male Violence in Interwar Scotland

Research into judicial cases in the early 20th century reveals attitudes to sexual crimes.

Firstly, I would like to thank the Society of Antiquaries for Scotland for awarding me this grant, which enabled me to take two trips to Edinburgh during 2017. Other larger, grant-awarding bodies in the Arts discriminate against part-time PhD researchers and preclude them from making grant applications. The fact that the Society makes no such distinction is heartwarming to a remote, part-time PhD student like myself with limited financial resources.

The grant was requested in order to complete male-on-female violence data collection at the High Court of Justiciary (HCJ) in Edinburgh. The indictments under survey are: rape, incest, attempt to ravish, and lewd indecent and libidinous behaviour. Together these indictments comprise 481 cases for which all the court case papers (JC26 in National Records of Scotland catalogue) and precognition statements (AD15) have been read and noted, with sentencing and jury composition taken from Books of Adjournal.

During my first trip to Edinburgh, I was able to complete collection of data for ‘attempt to ravish’ (109 cases). Initial analysis shows that the geographic distribution for this indictment is largely concentrated around the urban centres of Glasgow and Edinburgh – a difference from ‘rape’ geographical patterns, which show some activity in the Highlands and Island, as well as clusters in north-central Scotland. However, ‘ravish’ appears similar in distribution patterns to ‘incest’, and age range of the victims is comparable – both indictments reflect over fifty per cent of cases brought to HCJ are attacks on girls under sixteen years. This is different from data collected for England and Wales up to the First World War, and begs questions concerning possible societal ambivalence to sexual violence in less densely populated and rural areas; attitudes of the legal profession namely the procurator fiscal towards bringing a case for a lesser sexual violence crime; and ability to apprehend a perpetrator in a wider geographic space.

While ‘rape’ cases included violence against girls above the age of sixteen years as well as violence against minors by both known-to-the-victim and unknown assailants, ‘ravish’ predominantly comprises acts of violence by male relations and known neighbours. Again, questions arise concerning familial attitudes to sexual access to family members, which must be compared with indictments brought to HCJ as ‘incest’ only, (while ‘rape’ is non-familial, ‘ravish’ charges in 1920s Scotland are brought against family members when ‘incest’ might also be a possible charge). The legal definition for ‘incest’ requires sexual connection between persons with consanguinity and relations by marital affinity, while that for ‘ravish’ does not infer a degree of incestuous relationship. It was the procurator fiscal’s decision which indictment to use to bring a case before HCJ, therefore cases for ‘ravish’ must be analysed for degree of consanguinity (what are the specific details of the crime that determine ‘ravish’ instead of ‘incest’ where consanguinity is established?); age of victim (the younger the victim the less likely she would be to remember the event and therefore
less impact? There is some evidence that this was an opinion held by the legal profession of the time), and sentencing patterns.

Also notable is that the indictment of ‘ravish’ is used more in the earlier years of the period under investigation and is a lesser used indictment after 1925; (ninety per cent of ‘ravish’ cases appear 1918-1925). Does this point to improved forensic medicine in the latter years of the survey thus confirming ‘rape’ over ‘ravish’? Or has the indictment gone out of fashion? (The continuing numbers of ‘rape’ cases to 1930 proves that the activity has not gone out of fashion).

The second week of data collection completed my survey of ‘lewd indecent and libidinous behaviour’ (153 cases). This indictment included a handful of male-on-male cases, which will be dealt with under ‘sodomy’ at a later date. However, again a large proportion of ‘lewd’ cases were acts of sexual interference and violence against minor girls, and again geographically more prevalent in the urban centres. The same questions as above will be dealt with for this indictment in my chapter ‘Outrages on Little Girls’ (Gibb, 1944).

As anticipated, there are no records for cases brought against a middleclass accused or middle-class victim, except a headmaster in 1930 who attacked several girls at his school and was charged under ‘lewd & libidinous’. A discussion concerning the total lack of the middle- and upper-classes from the records for sexual crime will form part of my conclusions for male-on-female violence.

The monies granted by the Society have directly allowed me to complete my male-on-female violence survey. I can now begin detailed analysis of these records and start to write the three chapters of my thesis, which this data informs as well as give a paper at a forthcoming conference – I have been invited to provide the historical perspective at the Edinburgh ’16 Days of Change’ conference in December 2017. This is part of an annual United Nations campaign to raise awareness of gender-based violence in modern society and will be attended by Scottish government representatives, NHS and Police Scotland among others.

Please note that because I am consulting records closed under the 100 years ruling, I am unable to provide any photographic images to support this report.

Thank you again for your generosity, and I hope that I may apply again this autumn for a further research travel grant as the task of capturing murder, culpable homicide, assault, grievous bodily harm and sodomy cases begins.

Louise Heren, 2017