Carnal Crimes: Sexual Assault Law in Canada, 1900-1975 is an engaging and powerful book about sexual assault crimes in Canadian history by one of Canada’s foremost legal historians. Using a case-study approach, Constance Backhouse explores nine sexual assault trials from across the country throughout the twentieth century. We move from small towns to large cities, from the Maritimes to the Northwest Territories, from the suffrage era to the period of the women’s liberation movement. Each of these richly-textured vignettes offers insight into the failure of the criminal justice system to protect women from sexual assault, and each is highly readable and provocative. The most moving chapters document the law’s refusal to accommodate a woman who could only give evidence in sign language, and the heartbreak of a child rape trial. Backhouse deals sensitively and deftly with these difficult stories.
This book is the best kind of legal history—a vivid exploration of the past which also gives us the tools to assess the efficacy (or in this case lack of efficacy) of the legal system.
Published for the Osgoode Society for Legal History.