Thursday 9 December 2010

The Vulnerable Servant

After reading various articles today, I'm reminded of the risk to servants - particularly young girls, barely into their teens - when they entered their career. We have a typical image of the aristocratic or middle-class 'seducer' who exploited their power, and got the 'maid' pregnant, but there is an equally grim reality: the exploitation of pre-pubescent children, in working-class or lower-middle-class homes. Minor tradesmen - indeed, anyone with a regular income - might still employ a 'skivvy' to do some basic tasks around the home; and such unequal relationships were open to abuse. We probably see these cases in the press quite frequently because pre-pubescent girls were perceived as vulnerable and innocent (and, if a surgeon confirmed that they had been 'violated', then it was hard to claim that the girl was already sexually active and consented). Moreover, one suspects that the girls' families would be more willing to bring their employers to court, if they were of the same class. I've also just discovered the  "Associate Institute for Enforcing the Laws for the Protection of Women" which, in some cases, brought prosecutions, for the general good of society, occasionally against the wishes of those involved. Here's a typical, depressingly familiar case:
WORSHIP STREET, CHARGE OF VIOLATION. On Tuesday, Charles Warren, a portly, respectable-looking man, described as a coffee house keeper, at Queen's-road, Dsleton, was placed at the bar before Mr. Tyrwhitt, charged with a criminal assault upon his female servant. Lydia Smith, a girl twelve years of age. Mr. Henry Allen, from the office of the Associated Institution for Improving and Enforcing the Laws for the Protection of Women, was in attendance to watch the proceediings. The prosecutrix, an intelligent, innocent-looking young girl, stated that she had lived for six weeks in the service of the defendant, who had conducted himself with gross impropriety towards her on repeated occasions, almost from the first day that she entered the situation. She succeeded, however, in repelling his advances, until the night of Monday [illegible], when the defendant suddenly entered the back kitchen, where she was in the habit of sleeping, soon after she had retired to rest, and inquired if she was asleep, at the same time telling her that her mistress had just gone out. Feeling greatly alarmed, as there were no other inmates in the house, she requested the prisoner to leave the room, and hearing the door close almost immediately, she supposed he had done so, and fell asleep, but was awoke shortly afterwards by some one getting into her bed, and discovered it to be the prisoner. The witness here entered into a detail of the prisoner's subsequent conduct, which went fully to establish the perpetration of the outrage, and added that before be quitted the apartment, the prisoner enjoined her to strict secrecy with regard to the oc currence, and she had no opportunity to communicate the matter to any of her friends until two days after, when she was visited by her sister, and having made her acquainted with the infamous conduct to which she had been subjected. she was taken away from the house. Sarah Smith, sister of the prosecutrix, fully corroborated the girl's evidence as to her having apprised her of the outrage on Wednesday even ing last. The girl's father, a respectable-looking, elderly man, stated that on Sunday evening last he was called out from chapel by the last witness and her aunt, who communicated to him what had taken place, and he immediately proceeded to the house of the prisoner, from which he removed his daughter, and conveyed her home to his own residence. On the following morning his daughter was attended by a surgeon, the result of whose examination induced him to obtain the assistance of a policeman, with whom be repaired to the prisoner's house, and gave him into custody. Mr. Tyrwhitt ordered the prisoner to be remanded for a week.
Reynolds Newspaper, September 12, 1852
Warren was acquitted at the Old Bailey on 20th September 1852.

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