A Brief History of Seduction

Chloë Kennedy is Senior Lecturer in Criminal Law at the University of Edinburgh. Her main research interests are criminal law, legal theory, legal history and the relationships between these areas. Her work also focuses on law and gender. Chloë is currently writing a genealogy of legal responses to inducing intimacy. This research is funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council Research Leader Fellowship grant (AH/S013180/1). 

Seduction is a slippery concept. Once associated with disloyalty and disobedience, seduction is now more commonly associated with the ‘art’ of persuading another person to have sex. Yet even in this context, seduction can refer to anything from gentle persuasion to substantial manipulation. Partly because of this, attitudes towards seduction are often ambivalent. Practices at one end of the seduction spectrum are considered innocuous, or even valuable, while practices at the other end are considered impermissible and condemned as such. Adding a final layer of complexity, it is not always clear where a particular practice belongs on this spectrum and answers to this question vary across time and place.

In this post, I explore the Scottish delict (i.e. civil wrong) of seduction and look at how, for two centuries,[1] it was used to proscribe certain ways of persuading another person to have sex. Though there is much to say about seduction, in this post I focus solely on the conduct that was prohibited. Based on an examination of ~450 seduction cases, I want to suggest that the action of seduction is best understood as a wrong that involved being untrustworthy[2] in socially and culturally significant ways, which revolved around contemporary understandings of marriage and the abuse of power.  

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