‘Fallen women’ and ‘artful dodgers’ – historical reflections on youth deviance

Stanton, Naomi and Wenham, Aniela (2013) ‘Fallen women’ and ‘artful dodgers’ – historical reflections on youth deviance. In: Reappaisals: Essays in the history of youth and community work. Gilchrist, Ruth, Jeffs, Tony, Spence, Jean, Stanton, Naomi, Cowell, Aylssa, Walker, Joyce and Wylie, Tom, eds. Russell House Publishing, Lyme Regis, UK, pp. 20-38. ISBN 9781905541881. [Book Section]

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This chapter considers societal discourses about young people, based on historical assumptions concerning class and gender. It focuses primarily on nineteenth century perceptions of a criminal underclass made up of prostitutes and young offenders, driven by their lustful greed for money and sex. During this time there was a high level of moral panic over these perceived gangs. Two distinct gender characterisations are considered: the ‘fallen woman’ and the ‘artful dodger’. This chapter concludes, through a critical appraisal of the literature, that the perception of these groups was far greater than their actual existence. The final section of the chapter considers the legacy and evolution of such labels into the present day.
Distinct stereotypes about young ‘deviants’ existed during the nineteenth century and into the Edwardian era. The ‘fallen woman’ was a label attributed to female members of the lowest strata of society who were considered to be deviant. This term was synonymous with ‘prostitute’ and a stigma of sexual immorality was applied to women of the perceived criminal class. The young male criminal was often termed an ‘artful dodger’; an arrogant, skilled thief who engaged in pickpocketing and other materialist crimes in order to fund his desire for promiscuity and alcoholism. Both ‘fallen women’ and ‘artful dodgers’ were assumed to gather and lodge in gangs where they trained for and planned their crimes, seducing others to join them (Emsley, 2005). These fears emerged from moral panics about juvenile crime in the nineteenth century (Cunningham 1995: 145). It is argued that the levels and causes of such crime were exaggerated by Victorian society, producing irrational fears that influenced policy at the time (Springhall, 1999).
Popular entertainment such as contemporary literature and unlicensed theatres were considered to be causes or contributing factors, and in the case of the latter, breeding grounds for crime (Springhall, 1999). Lodging houses and so-called ‘nurseries of crime’ were believed to exist where prostitutes and young thieves gathered to plan their crimes and spend their dishonest earnings on debauchery. This aggressive consumerism was considered to be far more influential in luring the young into a criminal way of life than the actual need to survive that came with extreme hardship. Pearson (1983: 173) asserts that ‘Victorians gave little or no weight to the material circumstances of unemployment, wretched housing and poverty in their understanding of the crimes of the poor’. Nineteenth century commentators on crime often referred to a decline in religious and moral values among the lower classes as a cause of their succumbing to temptations of ‘evil’. The responses of the time reflected this in the provision of reform schools for young offenders, and missionaries seeking out ‘fallen’ girls (Manton, 1976).
These nineteenth-century stereotypes of young people affected wider public concerns and debate about crime and led to increased legislation, policing, arrests, prosecutions and convictions (Springhall, 1999). Many of the responses only acted to further exaggerate the perceived increase in certain crimes, supposedly being perpetrated by the stigmatised groups. The following discussion explores these stereotypes and their role in clouding the realities of youth deviance during this era.

Item Type: Book Section
Research Areas: A. > School of Health and Education > Mental Health, Social Work and Interprofessional Learning
Item ID: 17341
Notes on copyright: Access to full text restricted pending copyright check.
Depositing User: Naomi Stanton
Date Deposited: 04 Aug 2015 09:52
Last Modified: 30 May 2019 18:30
URI: https://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/id/eprint/17341

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