Sunday, 12 December 2010

Witch Trials and Rape

"It is true that rape is a most detestable crime, and therefore ought severely and impartially to be punished with death; but it must be remembered, that it is an accusation easily to be made, hard to be proved, but harder to be defended by the party accused, tho innocent."

No words have severely affected modern women more than Sir Matthew Hale's seventeenth-century quote. Even though the crime of rape has been shown to have no more false accusations than any other crime, Hale's statement, warning jurors that women are liars, has been repeated throughout courtrooms for centuries. In the U.S., the words weren't stricken from the courts until the 1970s.

In the seventeenth century, a woman who brought the charge of rape against a man was automatically regarded with suspicion. A girl's sexuality was controlled by her father, and once she was married that power shifted to her husband. If a woman had been raped, her "protector" would bring the charges to the authorities. Women with no male protector were often looked upon as being unchaste and thought to readily consent their virtues to any man.

But what does the crime of rape have to do with witch trials? In 1664, Hale presided as a judge in a witch trial of two elderly women, Amy Duny and Rose Cullender. Dorothy Durent accused that Duny had caused her children to have "fits." In one instance, Duny had prophesied that Durent would see some of her children dead and end up on crutches herself. When Durent's daughter became sick, Duny foretold that she hadn't long to live. The girl died two days later. Shortly after her daughter's death, Durent went lame only to be cured upon Duny's conviction.

Duny was also accused of bewitching the Pacey children. In 1663, Deborah Pacey went lame. Soon after, she had "fits" and great stomach pain. She told the doctor that Amy Duny had appeared to her and frightened her. Duny was put in stocks for the crime. Two days later, the other Pacey child began to have fits that included lameness, deafness, loss of speech, fainting, and coughing up pins. Both children claimed that Amy Duny and Rose Cullender had come to them. The children were also thought to be possessed by the devil.

Two more children of different families had similar fits. In body searches of the accused women, Rose Cullender was found to have "something like a teat about an inch long" in the abdominal region.

During court, three of the children fell into violent screaming fits. In a test, the girls were blindfolded and touched by strangers. Tricked into thinking the touches had come from the accused women, the girls had a "bewitched" reaction. The father of one of the girls stated that sorcery was the cause for their mistake.

Sir Matthew Hale refused to allow the evidence to come before the jury and failed to give a similar speech that he normally delivered to rape jurors about how difficult the crime was to prove. In fact, he offered the exact opposite explanation and lectured the jury about the evils of witchcraft. After half an hour, the jury delivered a guilty verdict for thirteen counts of witchcraft and sorcery. With the conviction, the children were restored to good health and walked out of the courtroom completely healed.

Duny and Cullender denied any wrongdoing and were hanged on March 17, 1664.

Like rape trials, the female victims in witch trials were mocked and believed to be corrupt. Sir Matthew Hale and those who thought like him had ways of keeping women in their places through intimidation and fear. His infamous words may have been stricken from the courtrooms, but his legacy lives on when the modern justice system fails to take rape complaints seriously.

Kim Murphy
www.KimMurphy.Net

6 comments:

Suzy Witten said...

I was asked recently to give a lecture on this subject, I think because I include the theme of rape and abuse in my book THE AFFLICTED GIRLS A Novel of Salem by Suzy Witten (ISBN: 978-0-615-32313-8).

Here is some of what I shared in my lecture:

A man in the seventeenth century could only be convicted of rape when he used enticement or force driven by the “sinful lusts that raged within him," so colonial men devised the definition of rape in a variety of ways to work in their favor. Consequently, there are fewer rape accusations written into the historical record than actually occurred during this period ... because men also manipulated and dominated the judicial system.

The justice system in colonial times typically refrained from punishing white males, though it did not waver from finding fault with the corresponding actions of the female, which made Puritan women less likely to report abuse.

Young colonial women, in particular, felt a sense of helplessness when dealing with the justice system, which led them to refrain from reporting rapes and other crimes of abuse. Sexual violence would not be treated seriously, because male jurors generally hesitated to convict other white males, and found it difficult to believe how any married or unmarried or woman could have truly withheld her consent and had not in some fashion invited the man's advance.

The rapes of younger married and espoused women, and girls under 10, were considered dreadful only because they injured the marital bonds, called the legitimacy of children into question, and compromised men’s legal relationship to wives and minor daughters.

Cotton Mather, a leading Puritan minister for three-plus decades, in the instance of rape, would prescribe fines, whippings, or marriage (if the victim consented), and in the instance of a girl being raped, the fine was partially allocated to her father.

Girls under 10 were somewhat protected because, as in a statutory rape today, it was believed they could not properly consent to intercourse. The Bible instructed Puritans that intercourse was an act of procreation, which was not possible with a 10 year old girl. However, it is known that children were sexually abused throughout this period.

Accusing a 17th century white man of any rape, though, was a difficult proposition. New England Puritans thought women would be so terrorized by the attack that they surely would resist, and if overpowered, would not be able to lie about the incident. And because Puritans also believed that a woman had to have an orgasm in order to conceive, should she accuse someone of rape and then turn out to be pregnant, obviously she must have given her consent to the act and lied.

Thus, It’s not surprising that in colonial New England few rapes were actually reported.

I think sometimes we authors paint a rosier picture of the past than actually existed.

Thanks all. I hope you'll also take a look at my book!
www.theafflictedgirls.com

Suzy

Suzy Witten said...

I was asked recently to give a lecture on this subject, I think because I include the theme of rape and abuse in my book THE AFFLICTED GIRLS A Novel of Salem by Suzy Witten (ISBN: 978-0-615-32313-8).

Here is some of what I shared in my lecture:

There are fewer rape accusations written into the historical record than actually occurred during this period ... because men also manipulated and dominated the judicial system. Young colonial women felt a sense of helplessness when dealing with the justice system, which led them to refrain from reporting rapes and other crimes of abuse. Sexual violence would not be treated seriously, because male jurors generally hesitated to convict other white males, and found it difficult to believe how any married or unmarried or woman could have truly withheld her consent and had not in some fashion invited the man's advance.

The rapes of younger women--married, unmarried or espoused, and girls under 10, were considered dreadful only because they injured the marital bonds, called the legitimacy of children into question, and compromised men’s legal relationship to wives and minor daughters. Girls under 10 were somewhat protected because as in a statutory rape today, it was believed they could not properly consent to intercourse. The Bible instructed Puritans that intercourse was an act of procreation, which was not possible with a 10 year old girl. However, it is known that children were sexually abused throughout this period.

Accusing a 17th century white man of any rape, though, was a difficult proposition. New England Puritans thought women would be so terrorized by the attack that they surely would resist, and if overpowered, would not be able to lie about the incident. And because Puritans also believed that a woman had to have an orgasm in order to conceive, should she accuse someone of rape and then turn out to be pregnant, obviously she must have given her consent to the act and lied.

Cotton Mather, a leading Puritan minister for three-plus decades, in the instance of rape, would prescribe fines, whippings, or marriage (if the victim consented), and in the instance of a girl being raped, the fine was partially allocated to her father.

I think sometimes we authors paint a rosier picture of the past in our books than actually existed.

Suzy Witten
www.theafflictedgirls.com

Suzy Witten said...

There are fewer rape accusations written into the historical records ... because men also manipulated and dominated the judicial system. In colonial New England, women felt a sense of helplessness when dealing with the justice system, which led them to refrain from reporting rapes. Male jurors generally hesitated to convict other white males, and found it difficult to believe how any married or unmarried or woman could have truly withheld her consent and had not in some fashion invited the man's advance.

The rapes of women and maids, and girls under 10 injured the marital bonds, called the legitimacy of children into question and compromised men’s legal relationship to wives and minor daughters. Girls under 10 were somewhat protected because as in a statutory rape today, it was believed they could not properly consent to intercourse. The Bible instructed Puritans that intercourse was an act of procreation, which was not possible with a 10 year old girl. However, it is known that children were sexually abused during this period.

Puritans also believed that a woman had to have an orgasm in order to conceive, so should she accuse someone of rape and then turn out to be pregnant, obviously she must have given her consent to the act and lied.

Cotton Mather, a leading Puritan minister for three-plus decades, in the instance of rape, would prescribe fines, whippings, or marriage (if the victim consented), and in the instance of a girl being raped, the fine was partially allocated to her father.

Of course, sometimes we authors paint a rosier picture of the past in our stories than ever existed. I tried not to do that in THE AFFLICTED GIRLS A Novel of Salem.

Suzy Witten
www.theafflictedgirls.com

Suzy Witten said...

Sorry for so many posts, Kim. After I posted initially I got a message twice to shorten the text, which I did thinking nothing posting ... hence three.

Suzy

Kim Murphy said...

Not to worry, Suzy. I found the posts interesting. I've been working on a book about rape in the Civil War and was astounded when I found the connection between then (not to mention present day) and the 17th century. I'm still amazed that a man could beat a woman to a bloody pulp and not be guilty of rape because she had "consented."

Alison Stuart said...

Suzi, thank you for your fascinating and insightful comments on this subject. Not an easy topic to broach and I will definitely take a look at your book.

Alison