Against his will? Recovering male on male sexual violence in London, 1761-1861

Taylor, Jack (2021). Against his will? Recovering male on male sexual violence in London, 1761-1861. PhD thesis The Open University.



English and Welsh law only explicitly criminalised non-consensual homosexual activities with the Sexual Offences Act (1967). This thesis demonstrates how non-consensual acts can be identified in the past when all homosexual activity was illegal, by examination of court records and newspaper reporting of criminal trials in late eighteenth and nineteenth century London. Existing historiography has uncovered a huge quantity of homosexual acts occurring in the capital in this period, but historical literature on sexual violence has largely ignored the experiences of men. Therefore, this thesis is the first full-length study to focus specifically on sexual assaults alleged between men.

Evidence is explored through the multitude of offences where it appeared, including sexual crimes but also theft and other offences, heard in courtrooms ranging from the summary courts to the Old Bailey and beyond, demonstrating that sexual violence between men was exposed at all levels of the criminal justice system. Furthermore, this thesis considers the discourse of sexual violence in these sources, specifically the terminology used to describe it which rarely differed from consensual homosexual acts, and that frequent elements often appeared in the narratives of victims and perpetrators. It also assesses what these records can tell us about patterns of sexual violence, and finds that most instances consisted of unwanted touching on the genitals alleged to have occurred at night in spaces connected with male homosexuality between men of relatively similar age and social status. Moreover, this thesis examines what the courts thought of different types of prosecutions, exposing the reasons for conviction and sentences, for example heightened physical violence and the presence of witnesses, and that convicted men were rarely treated differently from the norm in terms of post-trial outcomes.

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