The emergence of the child as an object of sexual protection in Scots criminal law c. 1919-present

Ferguson, Rachel (2024) The emergence of the child as an object of sexual protection in Scots criminal law c. 1919-present. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Full text available as:
[thumbnail of 2023FergusonPhD.pdf] PDF
Download (1MB)


In Scotland, and across many Anglo-American jurisdictions, governments are committed to the ever-increasing improvement of the criminal law and policy to prevent and protect against child sexual abuse. However, criminal law scholarship typically assumes that the sexual protection of children in the criminal law is derivative of the law of sexual offences against adults. As a result, there has been a relative lack of critical attention devoted to the study of child sexual offences, which might ground an evaluation of the law and provide a basis for future reform.
This thesis contributes to the critical understanding of sexual offences against children by developing an account of the emergence and endurance of the child as an object of sexual protection in the criminal law. It traces the emergence of this area of criminal law from the interwar period, when sexual offences against children first arose as a distinct category of the criminal law, until the present day. It shows how different understandings of the child and childhood, as objects of protection, have shaped the development of the criminal law. From 1919, female and working class children were the object of protection to prevent the spread of sexual disease and sexual licentiousness in the future. In the mid-twentieth century, the thesis shows that the protection of the law was extended to male children as a result of the distinctive homosexual threats that adult male sexual conduct posed to the masculine ideal of heterosexuality. In the contemporary period, the category has expanded to include all children below 16, and in some circumstances those below the age of 18, in order to protect the child’s vulnerable lack of autonomy to engage in sexual activity with autonomous adults. It argues that this construction operates to re-inscribe the dependency of children and young people; and inculcates a sense of responsibility upon adults for the care, protection, and safety of children.
In developing its argument, the thesis undertakes a socio-historic approach to the criminal law. It shows how the aims of the criminal law have changed as a consequence of changing ideas about childhood and its relation to adulthood. The understanding of sexual harms to children in the criminal law thus reflects these wider social and institutional conditions. It is on the basis of this understanding of sexual offences against children that further scholarship, and reforms, can be grounded. The thesis concludes that its findings offer critical insights into the past, present, and future of sexual offences against children.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: K Law > KD England and Wales > KDC Scotland
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Law
Supervisor's Name: Farmer, Professor Lindsay and Armstrong, Professor Sarah
Date of Award: 2024
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2024-84258
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 24 Apr 2024 14:46
Last Modified: 24 Apr 2024 14:51
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.84258

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year