Carnal knowledge

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This article is about the term. For the film, see Carnal Knowledge.

Carnal knowledge is an archaic or legal euphemism for sexual intercourse.[1] The term derives from the Biblical usage of the verb know/knew, as in the King James Bible and other versions, a euphemism for sexual conduct. "And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bore Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD." – Genesis 4:1.

Meaning[edit]

In criminal law, the phrase has had different meanings at different times and in different jurisdictions. While commonly a mere euphemism for sexual intercourse (not necessarily unlawful), different jurisdictions have defined carnal knowledge (as well as sexual intercourse) as a specific sex act such as contact between a penis and vagina, some laws elaborating this to include even "slight penile penetration of female sex organs". The definition sometimes includes a set of sex acts that include sodomy, while some statutes specifically exclude such acts. Some laws do not define the term, and leave it to the courts to give meaning to the term, which also enable the courts to take into account changing community standards.

Carnal knowledge has also sometimes meant sexual intercourse outside of marriage, and sometimes refers to sex with someone under the age of consent. The phrase is often found in this sense in modern legal usage, being equivalent to statutory rape in some jurisdictions, as the term rape implies lack of consent.

A related term is carnal abuse, which is defined by Dictionary.com as "any lascivious contact with the sexual organs of a child by an adult". This may or may not involve penetration.[2]

England and Wales[edit]

Section 18 of the Offences against the Person Act 1828 reads as follows:

The crimes of carnally abusing girls referred to were those created by section 17 of the Act.

In cases decided under this section it was held that the slightest penetration was sufficient.[3]

This section was replaced by section 63 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861. The term was not used in the Sexual Offences Act 1956, which replaced it, where it appeared, with the term sexual intercourse, in all the provisions consolidated by that Act.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Definition of "carnal knowledge"". WordNet. Princeton University. Retrieved 13 October 2010. 
  2. ^ "Definition of "carnal abuse"". Dictionary.com. 
  3. ^ R v R'Rue (1838) 8 C & P 641; R v Allen (1839) 9 C & P 31

Further reading[edit]

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