1777: Rev. Benjamin Russen, child rapist

1 comment December 12th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1777, crying out “Stand clear! Look to yourselves! I am the first hypocrite in Sion!”, a clerical schoolmaster was hanged at Tyburn for raping one of his charges.

Ann (or Anne) Mayne testified that the reverend had raped her when she was 9 and 10 years old (the girl was only 10 at the time of the trial). Russen ducked similar charges leveled by three other girls. Rachael Davis, for instance,

said, he lay upon her; but she did not declare, that he entered her body: I told the parties, that no one need be bound over, for it did not appear capital, as she did not say her body was entered.

Result: acquittal. (I’m sure you’ll feel good about entrusting your Bethnal-Green charity school child to Rev. Russen after that.)

Three acquittals out of four ain’t bad.

But it only took one conviction to hang him.

The Old Bailey Online record of Russen’s trial is full of dickering over penetration degrees, and of course, hymen breakage (or lack thereof).

According to this Treatise of the Pleas of the Crown,* the judge in the Mayne case

left it to the jury whether any penetration were proved; for if there were any, however small, the rape was complete in law. The jury found him guilty, and he received judgment of death. But before the time of execution, the matter being much discussed, the learned Judge reported the case to the other judges for their opinions, whether his direction were proper. And upon a conference it was unanimously agreed … that the direction of the Judge was perfectly right. They held, that in such cases the least degree of penetration is sufficient, though it may not be attended with the deprivation of the marks of virginity. It was therefore properly left to the jury by the Judge, and accordingly the prisoner was executed.

* Part of Edward Hyde East’s project in this Treatise is to argue against a standard still used in some jurisdictions that ejaculation was required to constitute a rape. See Passion and Power: Sexuality in History.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Notable Jurisprudence,Public Executions,Rape,Religious Figures,Sex,Tyburn

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