Professor Sweeny interviewed about the history of adultery laws for Atlas Obscura
Brandeis School of Law Professor JoAnne Sweeny was quoted in a recently published article from Atlas Obscura, titled "The Racist, Slut-Shaming History of Adultery Laws."
In the article, the author looks at the history of adultery laws, including as a criminal offense. Adultery remains a criminal offense in 21 states, usually as a misdemeanor, though these laws are rarely enforced.
"In the past, if two people were found in a house and one person was in pajamas and there was only one bed, that'd be enough," Sweeny said. "In more modern cases, you basically have to watch them have sex."
In her research, she has found that enforcement began increasing in the second half of the 19th century, until about the 1910s, peaking in the Victorian era and dissipating around the beginning of World War I.
"I think society's priorities changed," Sweeny said.
She also told the publication that race often played a role in criminal adultery cases during the 1930s through the 1950s.
"You get the sense, not only for interracial stuff, there's this social shaming: We don't do that with those sort of people. It can also be class shaming. These prosecutions seem to be very much enforcing social codes, at different levels," she said.