The world as seen through the clarifying lens of the 9th Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1875-1889).

Friday, 9 May 2008

14. The invasion of purity


The action for seduction of an unmarried woman in England stands in a somewhat anomalous position. The theory of English law is that the woman herself has suffered no wrong ; the wrong has been suffered by the parent or the person in loco parentis, who must sue for the damage arising for the loss of service caused by the seduction of the woman. Some evidence of service must be given, but very slight evidence will be sufficient. Although the action is nominally for loss of service, still exemplary damages may be given for the dishonour of the plaintiff's family beyond recompense for the mere loss of service. An action for seduction cannot be brought in the county court except by agreement of the parties. As to seduction of a married woman, the old action for criminal conversation was abolished by the Divorce Act, 1857, which substituted for it a claim for damages against the co-respondent in a divorce suit.Seduction in England is not as a rule a criminal offence. But a conspiracy to seduce is indictable at common law. And the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1885 (which extends to the United Kingdom), makes it a felony to seduce a girl between thirteen and sixteen (48 and 49 Vict. c. 69, SS 4, 5). The same Act also deals severely with the cognate offences of procuration, abduction, and unlawful detention with the intent to seduce a woman of any age. In Scotland, the seduced woman may sue on her own account.

United States.-In the United States State legislation has generally modified the common law. In some States the father brings an action as the representative of the family whose purity has been invaded ; in others the woman herself may bring the action. In many States there is a criminal as well as a civil remedy. The penal codes of New York, New Jersey, Louisiana, and other States make it a crime to seduce under promise of marriage an unmarried woman of good reputation. Subsequent intermarriage of the parties is in most cases a bar to criminal proceedings. Massachusetts goes still further. By the law of that State if a man commits fornication wityh a single woman, each of them shall be punished by imprisonment not exceeding three months, or by fine not exceeding $30. The seduction of a female passenger on a vessel of the United States is an offence punishable by fine or imprisonment. The fine may be ordered by the court to be paid to the person seduced or her child (Act of Congress of 24th March 1860). The State legislation of the United States is in remarkable opposition to the rule of the canon law, by which the seduction of a woman by her betrothed was not punishable on account of the inchoate right given over her person given by the betrothal.

(from volume 21 of the 9th edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica, published 1886.)

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