White Slave Trade

White Slave Trade

The term the white slave trade was first used in the 1830s and referred to female prostitution. Some national figures such as Josephine Butler, Catherine Booth and William Stead, thought the government should take action to reduce prostitution in Britain. They were particularly concerned with the issue of child prostitution and called for an increase in the age of consent from twelve to sixteen. In 1875 the campaigners had their first success when the House of Commons agreed to raise the age of consent to thirteen.

In 1885 William Stead and Bramwell Booth of the Salvation Army joined forces to expose the growth in child prostitution. In July 1885, Stead purchased for £5, Eliza Armstrong, a thirteen year-old daughter of a chimney-sweep, to show how easy it was to procure young girls for prostitution. Stead published an account of his investigations in the Pall Mall Gazette entitled Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon.

In September, William Stead and five others were charged with unlawfully kidnapping a minor and committed for trial at the Old Bailey. Stead was found guilty and was imprisoned for three months in Holloway Gaol. As a result of the publicity that the Armstrong case generated, Parliament in 1885 passed the Criminal Law Amendment Act that raised the age of consent from thirteen to sixteen, strengthened existing legislation against prostitution and proscribed all homosexual relations.

© , September 1997 - April 2014