October 19, 2022 | 6 PM
Erika Pérez

A few days before Christmas in 1896, a Los Angeles courtroom filled to standing-room-only capacity as the public listened to Josefa Valenzuela describe her seduction by her employer who had promised to marry her. The Valenzuela-Higuera breach of marriage promise case was one of several in early California that revealed how class and ethnicity shaped public discourses and perceptions of sex crime victims and illicit sex. Who received the benefit of the doubt in sex scandals and sex crimes and who did not?

In this talk, historian Erika Pérez will discuss her ongoing research on sex scandals and sex crimes in 19th-century California, focusing on a few specific legal cases and newspaper accounts to illustrate popular debates and societal anxiety about female sexuality, courtship, and the absence of patriarchal protection. Pérez will also examine what lessons we might draw by studying historical, as well as more recent, cases of sex crimes, sex scandals, and abuse.   

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About the Speaker

Erika Pérez is an associate professor in the Department of History in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Her first book Colonial Intimacies: Interethnic Kinship, Sexuality, and Marriage in Southern California, 1769-1885 shows how people wielded and responded to colonial power in their everyday intimate encounters. She is currently working on a multiracial, multiethnic history of sexuality, gender, and the law in 19th-century California, which includes research on working-class women’s sex work and moral panics regulating sexuality and vice.


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