Shortly before Christmas 1880, Harriet, a fourteen-year-old servant girl, when she was sitting mending curtains in a parlour in North London, was assaulted and raped by her employer, a baker called Henry Burholt. She ran from the room and found the courage to report what had happened, first to Mrs Burholt, then to her mother and the police. A doctor, who examined her, agreed that she had been violated. Turning down various proffered bribes, Harriet insisted on taking the matter to court.
A week before the rape, Harriet had been asked by Mrs Burholt to dress up in rags, blacken her face, and sing a risqué song for a party; she had also been sent to the local pub to fetch some beer. When the jury deliberated they decided that it was