Innocence: Chastity and Character

  • Victoria Bates
Part of the Genders and Sexualities in History book series (GSX)


The violated body was a medical, legal and social text: medical men needed to read the body and its signs in order to give them meaning. As part of this process, medical witnesses considered and eliminated a range of different explanations for physical signs and symptoms. One such explanation was the complainant’s sexual history, a subject that was considered to be irrelevant in law but was a necessary part of the diagnostic process. As with bodily signs in general, medical testimony about chastity and sexual character differed according to the age of complainants, but showed no clear division between ‘children’ and ‘adults’. Medical witnesses focused on the subjects of masturbation and genital ‘play’ in relation to the youngest complainants, and only contemplated unchastity as an explanation for genital signs once girls neared or passed the age of puberty. Examining the age, class and gender dimensions of medical testimony on masturbation and unchastity — and courts’ reactions to such evidence — shows that forensics provided a scientific justification for dismissing cases that did not fit age-based and gendered stereotypes of innocent victimhood.


Young Girl Rape Myth Medical Evidence Grand Jury Sexual Consent 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Victoria Bates 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Victoria Bates
    • 1
  1. 1.University of BristolUK

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