Saturday, January 06, 2007

Dorothy Lawrence

Living in a relatively civilized society in 2006, it is easy to forget how much social change has occurred in recent times. It was a little less than a century ago, in 1914, that 19 year old Dorothy Lawrence disguised herself as a man in order to join the British Army and act as a war reporter.

Her secret life lasted only ten days, before she gave herself up. But it isn't her experiences during the war that I refer to, but her tragic end. For in 1925, Dorothy Lawrence claimed she had been raped by her church guardian and was institutionalised as insane. She remained in the institution for the rest of her life, dying in 1964.

Details are sketchy, and I suppose one must allow the possibility that she really was insane, and that she hadn't been raped at all. That would be the comforting interpretation: a poor troubled lass, imagining sexual assaults, and being locked up for her own protection.

But how much more likely is it that, in 1925, the only "evidence" that she was insane was that she, a mere 30 year old woman, accused her church guardian of rape? Such a crime would have been unthinkable, and therefore only a mad woman could have thought it.

It may be that woman who are raped are treated badly by our justice system, but at least we've come this far: we no longer assume that an accusation that dear old Father Bill or Reverend Smith must, by definition, be a sign of insanity.

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