Genevan sex crimes database, c.1440-c.1790



The study examined in detail over 300 criminal trials surviving in Geneva relating to sexual deviance (homosexuality, male rape/sexual assault, paedophilia, lesbianism, bestiality, adolescent sexual experimentation, female rape/sexual assault, adultery and fornication). These trials, in which verbatim testimony and numerous depositions by witnesses survive, give an ideal place to test pre-Freudian ideas of sexual development, sexual categories and sexual self-awareness.

Main Topics:
The data collection contains details of over 1000 individuals gleaned from over 300 trials for the period c.1440 - c.1790 (although the overwhelming bulk of of the data come from the period 1530 - 1680). This represents, on average, over six people per year directly involved either as defendants or witnessess in trials relating to deviant, criminalised or violent sexual conduct. The database does not include the large number of magistrates who would have been present as judges and observers.

This large number of 'participants' as well as the excellent and detailed information preserved in the trial dossiers means that it has been possible to identify extremely subtle yet consistent ideas of sexuality and sexual preference among judges, defendants and witnesses. The voices of the 'deviants' are sufficiently evident to evaluate early modern views on sexuality, sexual identity and sexual preference. These views have been compared with early modern ideas as well as modern ideas about the development of these assumptions and presuppositions in an historiographical context. It has been demonstrated that the participants in these trials had very clear ideas of differing types of deviancy as well as firm convictions that criminals came to these types of crimes through diverse paths of sexual development.

The main variables include: the gender, age, occupation, place of origin and civic status of defendants and witnesses; the names and civic status of their parents and spouse; the crime they were charged with details of the interrogation, verdict and sentence; and cross references between cases.

Please note: this study does not include information on named individuals and would therefore not be useful for personal family history research
Date made available23 Apr 2002
PublisherUK Data Service
Temporal coverage1440 - 1790
Date of data production2000
Geographical coverageSwitzerland

Funder and Grant Reference number

  • Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
  • R000223045
  • British Academy
  • Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland

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