This article foregrounds the challenges encountered by the criminal justice system in understanding the distinctiveness of individuals in nineteenth-century Scotland classified as “imbecile” or “weak-minded”. Examining cases of rape and sexual assault that came before the High Court of Justiciary, it interrogates the difficulties of prosecution. It describes how human difference came under threat from a eugenic bioethical hierarchy when social structures were transforming under industrialization. Each of these factors made Scottish communities less safe for the dependent, especially those classified as “childlike” with sexually mature bodies. Based upon precognition legal sources the article, through the retrieval of the “imbecile”, identifies a paradigmatic clash between esteemed legal conceptions of mental capacity and a more complex humanity. It demonstrates how and why public expectations that these new social groups would be accommodated were not always met within the Scottish judicial system.
|Number of pages||23|
|Journal||Crime, History and Societies|
|Publication status||Published - 6 Nov 2020|
- criminal justice
- sexual assault