Child-stripping in the Victorian City
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press
During the nineteenth century, police, magistrates, reformers and the press noticed a rising tide of juvenile crime. Child-stripping, the crime of stealing young children's clothes by force or deception, was an activity of this type which caused alarm among contemporaries. As the century progressed, improved policing, urbanization and Irish migration, allied to growing social concern, caused more cases of child-stripping to be noticed. Accounts by Dickens, Mayhew and others characterized child-stripping as an activity indulged in by old women who were able to make money by victimizing the weakest strata of society. However, research in the British Library's digitized newspaper collections as well as in parliamentary papers conclusively demonstrates that child-stripping, far from being the domain of Dickensian crones, was actually perpetrated by older children, notably girls, against children even younger than themselves. Despite widespread revulsion, which at times approached a ‘moral panic’ prompted by the nature of the crime, progressive attitudes largely prevailed with most child-stripping children being sent to reformatories or industrial schools in the hope of reforming their behaviour. This article thus conforms with Foucauldian notions of the switch from physical to mental punishments and aligns with the Victorians’ invention of children as a category of humanity that could be saved.
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