I am currently working on a mapping project at the University of Michigan focused on sexual crime in nineteenth-century Utah. Every day, I look through the index of the Third District Court Criminal Case files. The cases included in the index (which is available through ancestry.com) covers the years, 1882 – 1916. I still have a long ways to go with the project, but I thought I would share some preliminary thoughts.
Newspapers get a lot of details wrong. In 1898, for example, John Blythe was accused of attacking a young girl. Her name is given variously as Rhoda Chandler, Rhoda Brash, and Rhoda Broch by the same newspaper.
I have encountered numerous conflicting dates, addresses, etc. I feel like I should write an article to be included on the website about how the markers are approximate because of the nature of the data.
A lot of attacks against women occur in public spaces. In 1897, a man named Benjamin Smith, for example, asked an eight- or ten-year-old girl (depending on the newspaper) and her sister to accompany him to Liberty Park to pick watercress. When they were in the park, he tried to rape her.
Another man attacked a girl who was walking in Pioneer Park with the children of her neighbor.
It is important not to read too much into these stories. Criminal court records only include those cases that were reported. It is possible that people were less likely to believe girls who were attacked in private spaces. Sexual assaults that took place in public spaces were often interrupted. The testimony of witnesses would have made it more difficult to argue that the girl had consented to the sexual activity. The frequency of young girls in the records may be a result of the same reason. Although adult women were also raped, it was easier to dismiss their stories. People were willing to believe that adult women consented to sex. They were less willing to believe it of children.
Homosexual assaults, on the other hand, did not tend to take place in public spaces. Instead, many of the cases that were brought to court took place in hotels. In 1900, for example, Frank Billings was accused of “committing a crime against nature” with a thirteen-year-old boy at the Wilson Hotel. Although the case was tried as a “crime against nature,” the act may not have been consensual. The child was heard screaming. Both Billings and the child worked at the hotel.
I am linking to an in-progress version of the map. Neither the website or map is ready for public consumption. Consider it a very, very beta version.