Escaping detection: illegal second marriages and the crime of bigamy
Official statistics on the number of prosecutions for bigamy clearly cannot be taken as an accurate guide to the number who went through a ceremony of marriage with a second ‘spouse’ while still married to their first. Nonetheless, when we compare those who were prosecuted with those who were not, the differences that emerge should make us cautious in assuming that the offence was common. There is evidence to suggest that many of the unprosecuted may not have been bigamists at all, given how long they waited to remarry. Even those who did not wait may have believed or persuaded themselves that their first spouse was dead and that they were entitled to remarry. Others adopted tactics to ensure that their bigamous marriage would not be discovered, with most moving considerable distances before remarrying and a few adopting aliases to disguise their identity. The data from the sample suggests that it was the fact that most of these bigamies were undetected, rather than tolerance of bigamy within the community, that explains why they escaped prosecution.
Copyright (c) 2022 Rebecca Probert
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