This article will examine some remarkable cyclical movements in the law dealing with rape, prostitution, pornography, homosexuality, and gender-related violence in New York State from 1920 to 1980. By focusing on this single state, which for most of the period under study was the most populous state and the economic and cultural leader of the nation, the historian can examine both familiar leading cases and lesserknown cases in the state's highest court, as well as the often revealing work product of intermediate and trial court judges, who at times responded more openly than higher-court judges to social and cultural attitudes and pressures. Moreover, New York was in one important respect more typical of the nation than any other single state: with its metropolitan center on the Atlantic coast, its upstate industrial cities little different from those of the Midwest, its expanding suburbs, and its rural farmlands and environmentally protected woodlands, New York contained locales similar to those in all the rest of the nation except the Deep South and the Far West. One would accordingly expect to find a wider variety of the socio-political forces that shape law in New York than in other jurisdictions. Of course, those forces would converge differently in New York than elsewhere, and the end legal product molded by them would differ: for example, social forces emerging out of the metropolitan center would have much greater weight in New York, where the City typically contained nearly half of the state's population, than in the nation at large, where New York City has never equalled even five percent of total population. When adjustments are made for these differences in configuration, however, the findings that emerge from this study about how socio-political forces influenced the law's treatment of sexual immorality and gender-related violence in New York can serve as preliminary hypotheses about more general national developments, at least until scholars examine in similar detail the law governing sexual behavior in other states such as California, Texas, and a Southeastern state like Georgia.
Nelson, William E.
"Criminality and Sexual Morality in New York, 1920-1980,"
Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities: Vol. 5
, Article 2.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/yjlh/vol5/iss2/2