Review: Sex Crimes of the 50s

Sex Crimes of the 50s takes an in depth look at the way sex crimes were treated in the 50s. This examination centres on New South Wales, the largest region in the country at the time, and focuses on 585 individual cases.

Lisa Featherstone and Amanda Kaladelfos have used information from court transcripts to put together this insightful and deeply disturbing look at the way sex crimes were tackled by the court system in the 50s providing a reflection on Australian culture at this time.

This book was a difficult read – I can only imagine it would have been even more infuriating to write. The book focuses on the different natures of sex crimes and the law at the time. Rape, for example, was defined particularly as penile penetration of the vagina. This brings us to two conclusions: under NSW law at the time:

  • if something else is used, then the act that occurs has not been rape, and
  • rape cannot happen to a man.

We see a lot of victim blaming for sex crimes today, but some of the court evidence presented is truly disturbing. Featherstone and Kaladelfos provide the statistics that most guilty verdicts were found again perpetrators who had attacked underage women or boys. Only a small percentage of guilty verdicts were found against men who had attacked adult women.  Fathers who abused their families were allowed to get away with their crimes based on the fact that they were good workers and attended church – especially if their wives had been absent or had been withholding sex.

There is a look at medical evidence and how completely useless it was in the courtroom, due to both the limited nature of the conclusion doctors could draw, and to the gender biased natures of the doctors themselves. One piece of “medical evidence” relied on was that if the women was healthy, the musculature of her vagina would prevent rape from occurring.

There is also a look at the farcical way that homosexuality was treated at this time, with the police being heavily criticised by judges for their use of entrapment techniques, and little more evidence than the officer’s testimony.

Sex Crimes in the 50s is an eye opening read, a must for anyone with an interest in Australian criminal law.

5 out of 5 horrifying testimonies.



  1. The bad thing about the past and the present is, the same thing happened but in the past, the bad guys are good at keeping it quiet and the victims are too afraid and don’t have enough support. Today, there’s more media coverage and more support from everyone, so the pressure to keep those bad guys in prison are greater. It’s definitely sad when the abuse happens to family members from family members. Victims are more likely to report a stranger hurting them than a family member because they could end up an orphan or homeless. I get sad and angry when I read these kinds of facts. So sad for the victims. There was that news about that guy, Josef Fritzl, he sexual abuse his daughter for a decade in the basement of his home and his wife didn’t even know about it. That type of nightmare is really heartbreaking. Did you read about him?

    Liked by 1 person

    • In-family abuse is awful, and your point is very much in line with what the authors have said – because of the time and due to the father being the bread winner, the mother often sided with the father against the abused child as she had no way to raise her other children without him. Yes I do remember the Fritzl case – that poor woman 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a hard book to read…the subject matter alone would be so difficult! But it’s good to read these books to remind ourselves of how things used to be, because if we don’t learn from history then we are doomed to repeat it!

    Liked by 1 person

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