That was a long time ago…it was different then. Part 1

Calderon, Philip Hermogenes; By the Waters of Babylon; Tate;

There are people who dismiss poor responses to abuse in the past as ‘it was a long time ago, people didn’t know about it then’ or ‘things were different then.’

I thought I would do a series of blogs looking at the history of our awareness of CSA. We start with two of the earliest sets of laws ever found, both from the Middle East. In these laws an unmarried or betrothed girl was likely to be a child before the age of 11-14 as once a child reached sexual maturity they were married. In the Laws of Ur-Nammu from over 4000 years ago as well as the laws of the city of Eshnunna, from 4000 years ago, anyone who rapes a betrothed girl is assigned the death penalty. The Laws of Eshnunna also state that if a girl is unmarried and not yet betrothed the rapist must marry her. Clearly not an ideal solution! Both laws are based in the Patriarchal idea that a girl’s worth is in her virginity, once that is gone her value and, consequently, her marriage prospects are reduced.

The first specific law prohibiting incest was around 3,800 years ago in Babylon. King Hammurabi’s code was inspired by Shamash, God of Justice. In this legal guidance incest with female children is prohibited; ‘If a man have known his daughter, they shall expel that man from the city’ as is rape ‘If a man force the (betrothed) wife of another who has not known a male…that man shall be put to death and that woman shall go free.’

So 4000 years ago, they did know about it and they created laws against it.


Finkelstein, J. (1966) ‘Sex Offenses in Sumerian Laws’, Journal of the American Oriental Society1, 86(4), pp. 355–372.

Harper, R. F. (1904) The Code of Hammurabi King of Babylon about 2250 B.C. 2nd edn. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. doi: 10.1525/sp.2007.54.1.23.

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