‘An ugly epoch’ : male sexual violence in interwar Scotland, 1918-30

  • Louise Elizabeth Heren

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This thesis examines social and judicial attitudes towards sexual violence in Scotland between November 1918 and December 1930. Based on a survey of over 700 sexual violence cases prosecuted at the High Court of Justiciary, it addresses three key research questions: who committed sexual violence against whom; what were the spatial and social geographies of these crimes, and how did the judiciary respond? The records suggest that sexual violence was committed by working-class males against women and children of their own class, and that while incest involved mainly pubertal victims, rape was a crime prosecuted equally against minors and adult females. The thesis explores reasons for this difference including the ability of the victim to report an assault. The absence of either middle-class perpetrators or victims from the records may reveal a lack of cross-class transgressions as well as different prosecuting practices for middle-class males. It also argues that the preponderance of prosecutions in Glasgow compared to Scotland’s other urban centres and rural areas cannot be explained by contemporaries’ correlation of domestic over-crowding with sexual violence. Finally, Scots Law and its reliance on nine regional procurators fiscal operating under a single legal code may have limited the scope for personal decision-making and ‘sifting’ of cases. However, once convinced of corroborated, compelling and competent evidence, procurators fiscal could proceed with cases, that often ran contrary to higher legal or forensic opinion. Once in court, analysis of jury gender composition, victim’s age, degree of association with the accused and notions of consent suggest that verdicts were evidence-based with class biases largely absent, although sentencing could be erratic. It is acknowledged that the ‘dark number’ of unreported and reported-but-unprosecuted crimes may not follow similar trends, but the prosecuted cases analysed in this thesis may offer insights into these unquantifiable, invisible crimes.
Date of Award2 Dec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorWilliam Walker Knox (Supervisor) & Robert Houston (Supervisor)


  • Sexual assault
  • Rape
  • Ravish
  • Incest
  • Sexual violence
  • Scotland
  • Masculinities
  • Glasgow
  • 1920s

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 1st December 2024

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