Winner of the 2009 Canadian Law and Society Association Book Prize
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.
A brilliant anatomy of sexual assault—both law and legal history. There is no book quite like this: the legal analysis leaps from each person’s individual story and trial transcript with awesome dexterity. Constance Backhouse is a spectacular writer. This is the way to learn law!
Superbly written and riveting, this legal history of sexual assaults opens a window, long closed, into the myths and stereotypes which, for so long, have inhabited our laws while also revealing the incredible pain andinjustices suffered by victims. A great book!
This engaging and powerful book demonstrates the ubiquitous nature of sexual assault in 20th century Canada and, as the author puts it, “the appalling failures” of the Canadian justice system. Constance Backhouse is a pioneer in the field of feminist legal history and continues to make a substantial and provocative contribution with this highly readable volume on sexual assault crimes in 20th century Canada . . . . While the book provides many reasons to be depressed about law’s inability to eradicate sexual assault, Backhouse’s words and analysis are inspiring and refreshing.