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Holly Rothering

History 105


March 22nd, 2017

DHP #4 Assignment:

Prostitution in Britain


For years Prostitution has been an issue around the globe, but nothing compares to the prostitutes that roamed the British streets. Prostitution has been around for hundreds of years and England has been one of the most prominent areas for prostitution for hundreds of years. Many other European countries dealt with prostitution, however is was never allowed amongst the streets. Street prostitution in London was allowed anytime of the day and “it [was] not an easy matter to make your way along [the streets at night] without molestation.” [1] People in London feared the sight of prostitutes would encourage young girls to pursue the path of prostitution. They believed people should neglect prostitutes so they feel ashamed and end their sexual ways. However, those weren’t exactly the steps London chose to follow when prohibiting this action.

Britain was a major powerhouse of prostitution in the 19th century due to the social injustices between men and women in hoary civilization. Men had more rights than women and had a sense of superiority over women. World War II caused a decrease in wages for women resulting in an insufficient amount of money for independent sustainability so many were attracted to prostitution.  As time progressed, laws were set in place and fines were distributed to eliminate the dirtiness upon the streets. Street prostitution was eliminated, however a new form of underground sexual exploitation emerged. Sex trafficking became very dangerous and thrived immensely in Britain.

During the late 1800’s- Early 1900’s, many women and young girls between the ages of eleven and fifteen were put into prostitution, also known as white slavery. This time period consisted of many women fighting for more rights and have a voice. World War II also took place during this time causing many people to fall behind the poverty line; struggling to find money forcing women into prostitution. Late nineteenth century performers generally agreed that “prostitution was founded on the poverty of the working-class women and saw a direct causal relationship between the low level of women’s wages and the recruitment of prostitutes.” [2] Prostitution occurred because of the instability and inadequate relation between women’s wages and their needs to be economically independent. Wages were so low that prostitution became an attractive possibility for many women.

In 1957, the New York Times issued an article discussing the controversy of actions needed to be taken to fix the issue of street prostitution in England. As much as the British Society wished to put all prostitutes in jail, they believed that wouldn’t be the correct step to take. They believed it would cause less cooperation with probation officers and higher charges to their customers. Others believed “prostitution will simply be driven underground [and] that it will become more vicious and a greater corruption.” [3] Stricter laws should be placed on prostitution and leave it off the streets.

Prostitution increased as time progressed forward and become a larger issue. More and more women fell into sex exploitation as times got harder and more expensive to live in. Many women worked beneath the stairs of stores, underground in mines, or the women who worked night shifts were the easiest to recruit into prostitution. However, in in the mid- and late century The Mines Regulation Act of I842 and the several Factory and Workshop Acts passed prohibited women to work passed certain hours and limited them to the careers they could pursue out of safety. [4] These laws helped to reduce the amount of prostitution and to keep it above ground. During the Victorian era, in the 1850s, one London Street was named “the Western counterpart of an Eastern Market.” [5] Streets began to fill up with prostitutes and mothers began to fear their daughters would be encouraged by this frowned upon behavior. The issue of street prostitution lasted for almost a hundred years before the British government stepped in. Several laws had been passed, but were not effective enough. On November 29, 1958 the Home Secretary, R.A. Butler, declared new legislation for curbing prostitution. R.A. Butler stated that street walkers in downtown London are “a reproach to our capital and a danger to our young people.” [6] The census resulted in stiffer fines against street walkers and the possible introduction of prison sentences after previously given multiple offenses. Police became stiffer ended about Prostitutes roaming the streets greatly reducing the number of street prostitutes.

Currently, prostitution is still legal in the UK, but criminalized for soliciting or brothel-keeping. As many Britons believed in the 1950’s, prostitution went underground and became very vicious. Between 1990-2015, approximately 152 sex workers were reported dead. Sex workers around the globe have been fighting for workers’ rights. They’ve been campaigning for “full decriminalization and labor rights as workers.” [7] They believe sex work is work and wish to have the benefits like regular jobs. Many women are also taken into sex trafficking. Human trafficking has increased by 245% from 2011 to the present day. [8] In 2015, the Modern Slavery Act was passed however, it doesn’t seem to be enough. The Modern Slavery Act established two new civil orders that were used to prevent trafficking. This Act also created an Anti-slavery commission to protect and construct a positive future for the victims of human slavery. [9] Police forces and organizations have come together to stop slavery and trafficking as it has been thriving more than ever before. Britain’s street prostitution has been greatly reduced, however sex trafficking has become the new reality, an underground trade driven by the exploitation of people.

As societies progresses and civilizations evolve, the idea of prostitution diminishes. Prostitution has transformed from the streets to under-the-radar facilities and has been better for society. Young women are no longer see prostitutes roam the streets resulting in less females pursuing the path of prostitution. However, there is a lot more to do to reduce prostitution. It has developed into things like sex trafficking and bondage. With new technologies and social medias, it makes it harder to stop such actions. Technology advancement makes it easier to recruit and kidnapped women and children for human trafficking. Working together to make prostitution and sex trafficking more known will help raise awareness. Only then can Prostitution be diminished and only then will we regain a type of world peace.


[1] Street prostitution–A subject of interest in New-York as well as in London. (1858, Feb 06). New York Times (1857-1922). Retrieved from

[2] Bartley, Paula. Prostitution: Prevention and Reform in England, 1860-1914. New York: Routledge, 2000.

[3] Thomas P Ronan. Special to The New York Times. (1957, Sep 22). Report on sex problems stirs British debate. New York Times (1923-Current File). Retrieved from

[4] Levine, Philippa. “Consistent contradictions: Prostitution and protective labour legislation in nineteenthcentury England.” Social History 19, no. 1 (January 1, 1994): 17-35. doi:10.1080/03071029408567890.

[5] Arnstein, Walter L. Britain yesterday and today: 1830 to the present. 8th ed. Vol. 4. A History of England. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 2001.

[6] Walter H Waggoner. Special to The New York Times. (1958, Nov 27). British map curb on prostitution. New York Times (1923-Current File). Retrieved from

[7] Eastham, Janet. “A radical moment for Britain’s sex workers.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 04 July 2016. Web. 07 Feb. 2017.

[8] Townsend, Mark. “Modern slavery and human trafficking on the rise in UK.” The Observer. July 09, 2016. Accessed March 22, 2017.

[9] “Modern Slavery Act 2015.” Modern Slavery Act 2015 — UK Parliament. March 30, 2015. Accessed March 22, 2017.


Geographic focus: Britain/England

Search terms: Prostitution, England, Great Britain, Sex Trafficking, Prostitution before 1979, History of British Prostitution.

Primary Source Database: Proquest, Historical New York Times

Primary Source Search Date Limiter: Before 1979, 1957-1958 is crucial year for government action on issue. Potential range date for project may be 1830-1960.

Historical Research Questions: How does prostitution affect society? What did the British government do to reduce street prostitution? How has Prostitution developed through the years and why did it begin?