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The Price of Virtue: The Socio-judicial Regulation of Juvenile Sexuality in France during the first half of the Twentieth Century

Abstract :

During the 20thcentury, child protection became an increasingly important part of judicial practice in most Western countries. In the process, children and youth were removed from the criminal courts to a separate juvenile justice system. For young people, this meant a much closer scrutiny of their intimate lives. The new system widened the range of reprehensible behaviour that could justify the state’s intervention, by emphasising the “interest of the child” within legal procedure. As scholars have observed, this new child welfare system, while advocating the preservation of the youth, increased the surveillance of popular-class families and opened the way to a more intrusive state regulation of private matters. Reinforced since the 18thcentury, sexual discipline had been applied first to the children of the bourgeoisie. But it now seemed to encompass the younger members of the popular classes. For their part, young people met these developments with a desire for emancipation, foreshadowing the loosening of emotional and sexual norms after World War II. In spite of this new child welfare judicial approach, the modes of conflict resolution were still linked to a “transactional” system of social conflict resolution, notably in the case of sexual violence committed by youth on children. In such cases, the justice system was more interested in balancing the interests of families and communities than in truly recognizing the victim’s rights. This study focuses on the judicial treatment of juvenile sexual activities, based on the archives of the Juvenile court of Angers.[5]The latter is a medium-sized city in the Loire valley whose working-class population was still relatively large during the first part of the 20thcentury. However, the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court of Angers also included a rather large rural area.[6]It will be argued that the justice system was marked by its reserve in the face of juvenile mores. Two different ways in which sexuality can be understood will be explored. Suffered by its young victims, it was nevertheless practised by youth as a part of their social experience.Finally, considerable disparity in the treatment of juvenile sexual behaviour by the justice system can be observed when gender is taken into account: while boys were viewed as predators, girls were suspected of sexual corruption. These representations, which underlay normative practices, framed the social experience of sexuality for children and adolescents.

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Submitted on : Sunday, May 6, 2018 - 2:26:57 PM
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David Niget, Jean Trépanier, Xavier Rousseaux. The Price of Virtue: The Socio-judicial Regulation of Juvenile Sexuality in France during the first half of the Twentieth Century. Youth and Justice in Western States, 1815-1950. From Punishment to Welfare, Palgrave Macmillan, pp.333-364, 2018, World Histories of Crime, Culture and Violence, 978-3319662442. ⟨10.1007/978-3-319-66245-9⟩. ⟨hal-01786633⟩



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