In this first section of the Handbook there are five essays providing a context for thinking about sexual violence, especially in understanding the attitudes which help to shape the modern criminal justice system’s responses. The first three chapters – Shani D’Cruze on the historical heritage; Liam Bell, Amanda Finelli and Marion Wynne-Davies, who give us a critical literary analysis; and Joan McGregor’s legal legacy work – provide a temporal frame, not often used as an analytic dimension when considering sexual violence. Halford et al. (1997: 19) argue that ‘historically established modes [of behaviour] are vitally important in shaping current activities’. It is their position, and one we share, that present practices do not exist in a time warp, but rather are derived from past forms of agency which are stored, retrieved, reworked and reactivated in the present. By salvaging the origins of thinking about sexual violence, how this is sedimented in literature, enmeshed in culture and reflected in law, we can see the durability of past prejudice.