Seduction (tort)

The tort of seduction was a civil wrong or tort in common law legal systems, and still exists in some jurisdictions.

An unmarried woman could sue on the grounds of seduction to obtain damages from her seducer, if her consent to sex was based upon his misrepresentation.[1]

Legal basis

Initially, the tort of seduction was a remedy for a father's property interest in his daughter's chastity.[2] However, the damages to which the father would be entitled were based on the father's loss of the working services of a daughter, much as a master could sue if a third-party caused injury to his servant that rendered the servant unable to work, because she was "seduced and debauched" and became pregnant as a result of nonmarital sexual activity. The tort of seduction was one of the most common civil actions toward the end of the 19th century, and fathers were often successful before juries.[3]

In the 20th century, the action was criticised as maintaining "property interests in humans", and the tort was recast to recognize personal injury to the woman, rather than solely deprivation of a father's property right. Most jurisdictions granted the victim (the wronged woman) the right to sue in her own name. (Fathers could still sue as well, on the ground that they had a moral interest in their daughters' chastity).[3] The suing woman was "usually but not always a virgin".[1]


Historically, the seduced female could not bring a suit herself. Rather, it would be brought by her father, acting under the legal fiction that the parent-child relationship falls under the master-servant relationship. However, if the daughter was a contracted servant, a suit could not be brought by her father against her master.[2]


Property and civil rights is a provincial power in Canada, so all torts can vary by province.


An Act to make the remedy for cases of seduction more effectual, and to tender the fathers of illegitimate children liable for their support, was passed in Upper Canada on March 4, 1837. Amending traditional common law, it allowed fathers to sue their daughters' masters for the tort of seduction. It also held biological fathers liable for children conceived out of wedlock.

The Seduction Act was repealed in 1978.[2]


The 1934 John Brownlee sex scandal revolved around a seduction suit.

Other provinces

An 1852 statute in Prince Edward Island allowed for a seduced woman to sue for herself with this tort.,[2] although damages were capped at 100 pounds. Manitoba and the North West Territories enacted similar legislation around the turn of the 19th century.[2]

United States

In the United States, the tort of seduction has been abolished in "most states".[1] Fears of fraudulent suits, combined with a turn away from the view of property interests in persons, led to the enactment of "heart balm" statutes, abolishing causes of action for seduction, breach of promise, alienation of affection, criminal conversation, etc. in most states in the 20th century.


  1. 1 2 3 Posner, Richard (1994). Sex and Reason. p. 81. ISBN 0-674-80279-9. The tort of seduction allows an unmarried woman (formerly her father or other guardian), usually but not always a virgin, to obtain damages from her seducer, provided that he made misrepresentations to obtain her consent to sex.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Bailey, Martha (1991). "Girls and Masters: The Tort of Seduction and the Support of Bastards". Canadian Journal of Family Law. 10: 137–162. Retrieved 2009-07-13.
  3. 1 2

See also

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