The Wolfenden Report: A Shift in Silencing

  • Caroline DerryEmail author


The 1957 Wolfenden Report addressed male homosexuality and female prostitution. Its impact extended far beyond the subsequent legislation on both issues, prompting debate on the philosophical underpinning of sexual offences legislation. Lesbians were almost entirely absent from consideration, briefly referred to only to be dismissed as less libidinous than gay men. Superficially, this is unremarkable since sex between women was not explicitly criminalised. However, closer examination shows a deliberate suppression rather than an incidental omission. It was a pivotal moment in the transformation from outright silencing of lesbianism to its dismissal as a lesser form of male homosexuality. That change is explained through societal and legal developments in understandings of sex between women in the post-war period, set within a wider context of evolving social and political approaches to homosexuality and sexual offences and the emergence of modern rights movements.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Law SchoolThe Open UniversityMilton KeynesUK

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