Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

PROSTITUTION: The sale of sexual favours, if legal in themselves, is not prohibited, but “soliciting“, that is, advertising willingness to sell such favours, is prohibited on the ground that it is embarrassing to the person solicited. The penalties are negligible where heterosexual favours are concerned and heavy where homosexual favours are concerned. The law requiring the notification of contagious diseases was repealed in 1886, despite the favourable report of a Royal Commission, chiefly because it was held that the fear of disease would be a deterrent to those making use o prostitutes. Penalties are prescribed for keeping a house where prostitutes work, for living on the immoral earnings of women, ant (since 1887) for inducing a girl to become a prostitute.

OBSCENITY, etc: Action may be taken against any matter thought likely to corrupt, whether or not that was the intention of the author, under the Obscene Publications Act of 1857. Not only publication, but lending and showing of photographs, manuscripts, etc., have been held to constitute an offence within the meaning of the Act. The meaning of “corrupt” in this context remains undefined and the question of what sort of publications do in fact corrupt remains without a reliable answer; in each case the decision is left to the judgment of the court. It is not necessary to prove that corruption has actually occurred. The law is thus more severe than in the case of (civil) libel, where it is normally necessary to prove that damage has in fact been done.

SEX BIAS: It would seem to be the Victorian assumption that women are devoid of sexual desire which is responsible for the fact that several of these regulations, passed in the last century, apply only to men. Thus the law does not provide for the contingency, by no means impossible, that a woman should abduct a boy, or that she should seduce a male imbecile. The Criminal Law Amendment Am of 1885, insofar as it prohibits acts of “gross indecency“, refers exclusively to males, while the Offences against the Person Act, though not specific, has in practice been invoked only against males. And a woman may obtain a divorce if her husband is an active homosexual, but a husband cannot do so when his wife is a Lesbian.

In conclusion it should perhaps be emphasized that if there are any defects in statute law, they are the responsibility of Parliament, which has failed to bring in amending legislation, rather than of the legal profession; where case law is concerned responsibility is more difficult to assign. It should also be added that in many cases offences are dealt with in courts of summary jurisdiction, where much depends on the individual magistrate and treatment may, in some cases, be more lenient than would be possible in the criminal courts. One of the ways in which a changing public opinion attempts to compensate for the neglect of Parliament is by refraining from committing offenders for trial.