Gloria J. Browne-Marshall
excerpted from: Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, Failing Our Black Children: Statutory Rape Laws, Moral Reform and the Hypocrisy of Denial (2002) (Footnotes Omitted)
"Powerless against a lustful husband and blind to the harsh realities of chattel slavery, the enraged wife often vented her jealous rage upon the one person whom she could control, the black woman." English law governed the "American" English colonists. The Virginia Colony was an English franchise. The English colonies adopted most of the components of English Law which included statutory rape provisions. The colonists were also governed by a militaristic code of "Lawes, Divine, Morall and Martiall, based on the Bible. These moralistic laws did not prevent the exploitation of female servants by male masters. Male and female Africans were brought by ship to Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619. These Africans were not considered slaves. Prior to the arrival of Africans, most distinctions between peoples were based on class and intra-European ethnic divisions. White immigrants were brought to the colonies to meet the inordinate need for labor. Although the Africans in the colonies were not slaves they did not have legal protections equal to that of the White non-servant colonists from Europe. As the benefits of slavery increased the profits of the European colonists, legal protections for Blacks within the colony became the exception to the rule. Indians were also enslaved in several of the colonies.
Colonial laws regarding statutory rape were not applied to Blacks and Indians. Indians and Blacks, as well as their children, were prohibited by law from defending themselves against abuse, sexual and otherwise, at the hands of Whites. A slave who defended herself against the attack of a White person was subject to cruel beatings by either the master or mistress. Liaisons between Whites and Blacks or Indians were illegal. The females of color received the harshest punishment if discovered in a liaison with a White male. Females of color, regardless of their young age, were viewed as seducers of White men. Pregnancy became the evidence of the illegal liaison. A mulatto baby the indicator of the race of the father - White male. The child, by statute took the status of the mother and is thus born into slavery. The full benefit of the relationship and the off-spring enured to the White male. Under English precedent, the status of children was determined by the father. The colonists changed the law to increase the wealth and domination of the White master who had eliminated certain costs of purchasing human labor by becoming "a breeder of slaves." The Black female, woman or child, was forced into sexual relationships for the White slave master�s pleasure and profit.
White and African abolitionists condemned slavery but often for very different reasons. White abolitionists in Massachusetts in 1712 condemned slavery, not for its diabolical construct, but because the Certain Whites argued for the importation of more White servants and an end to slavery because African slaves were having a negative effect on White servants. The plight of Black and Indian girls sexually abused by their White Masters was a known "secret" of slavery. The girls, their plight ignored, unprotected by law or policy, persevered in silence. Even if the girls acquiesced, consent assumes a right of refusal. Although the institution of slavery remained, the 1807 Foreign Slave Trade Bill proposed the ending of the trafficking of African human deeming it to be "contrary to the principles of justice humanity and sound policy." It was not a decision based solely on altruism. The drastic drop in profits, a surplus supply of sugar, a fear of continued slave rebellions, in addition to the pressure of abolitionists, led England to abolish its role in the slave trade.
The institution of slavery ended in England. However, it continued with reckless abandon in the United States. Enslaving African human beings was a profitable enterprise for America, especially in the South. African human beings were legally considered chattel or moveable property in certain Southern cities. Yet, at the same time, free Africans were an active part and sometimes highly educated members of the community at large. Enslaved Africans were debased for the benefit of certain Whites. Their plight as accepted "as natural" by the majority of American society. Not all Whites owned slaves. But, the American socio-political and economic structure was formed with Blacks as a disenfranchised group. The life of sexual debasement and cruelty which was the reality of female slaves was largely ignored by White Christian society in America.
Race, Racism and the Law
Vernellia R. Randall
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