So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire

Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire by Eric Berkowitz

Disputes over sexual behavior are not new, nor is our attempt to use the legal system to resolve differences involving sex. But Eric Berkowitz has looked at the legal disputes involving sex and has found that the behavior considered a crime and the punishments administered to those found guilty have varied quite a lot. Not only over time, and he has decided to look at a 4,000 year time period, but also between different cultures of the same time, what is considered criminal sexual behavior can vary significantly.
Eric Berkowitz is a writer and a lawyer and he takes us on a historic survey of documented sex crimes and their punishments from the Mesopotamia of 4,000 years ago up to the dawn of the 20th century. He felt to do justice to the 20th and 21st centuries in such a broad survey would require a second volume. His treatment is chronological with chapters on the Ancient World, Greece, Rome, the Middle Ages, 1500-1700, the New World, the 18th, and the 19th centuries.
His treatment is not prurient, but it is quite descriptive as legal documents often have to be, yet his writing is lively and enjoyable. While there are 20 pages of notes and a 20 page Bibliography for those who want them, the book can be easily read without referring to them. A large part of sexual abuse has to do with men of privilege and power having their way with those less fortunate than themselves, both male and female. Sometimes these wrongs against the powerless are judged and condemned by our legal systems, often they are not. While the author does not take a stance in the book, the amount of injustice presented may be upsetting to the reader.


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