Vol. 10: Kelly, James.

Type: Article

Kelly, James. ‘A Most Inhuman and Barbarous Piece of Villainy’: An Exploration of the Crime of Rape in Eighteenth-Century Ireland’, Eighteenth-century Ireland/Iris an dá chultúr, Vol. 10 (1995), pp 78-107..

In eighteenth-century Ireland, the occurrence of sexual violence against women was frequent enough to require strong legislation, including the provision of capital punishment, to punish men who raped women. While evidence suggests that the legislative changes of 1710 made it easier to prosecute a man for rape, resulting in more convictions, the ‘disincentives’ for women to report and prosecute a rapist far outweighed any benefits intended by the law. The patriarchal idealization of female virtue made it necessary for any woman to “maintain the illusion of chastity rather than make public her sexual history”. Kelly discusses documented cases of prosecutions for rape to identify the main features of the crime as perpetrated in eighteenth-century Ireland. Issues of property and class are explored, as well as incidences of child rape. Kelly concludes that “rape has been used in a conscious way by men throughout history to confine women”, creating an “environment in which women were not able to function free of fear”. This article is an extension of the same author’s “The Abduction of Women of Fortune in Eighteenth-Century Ireland” in Pp 7-43.