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Holly Rothering

History 105


April 28th, 2017

Final Assignment

Prostitution in Britain


Through many decades, prostitution has changed the global economy and social status. Prostitution has been around for hundreds of years and England has been one of the most prominent areas for this action. England was one of the few countries in Europe that actually allowed street prostitution for many years. In the 19th century, 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 late 19th and early 20th century due to the social injustices between men and women in hoary civilization. Men had a sense of superiority over

Figure 1: This 19th century prostitute from the UK advertises her sex work on the streets.

women and held more societal rights. Later in World War II there was a decrease in wages for many women resulting in an insufficient amount of money for independent sustainability. Therefore, many women were attracted to prostitution. As time progressed into the 20th and 21st centuries, the standard of public morality raised and 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. This became very dangerous and thrived immensely in Britain making Britain one of the biggest perpetrators for prostitution.

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 to have a political voice within society. 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. 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 the mid- and late nineteenth 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. [3] These laws helped to reduce the amount of prostitution

Figure 2: Many prostitutes roamed the streets at night waiting for a pickup as their second job.

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.” [4] 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.

Prostitution increased as time progressed forward into WWII and it became a larger issue. More and more women fell into sex exploitation as times got harder and more expensive to live in. When World War II took place, it caused many people to fall behind the poverty line. With this struggle to find money, women were often forced into prostitution. Several laws had been passed, but none 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.” [5] 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. 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.” [6] Stricter laws should be placed on prostitution and leave it off the streets.

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 violent. Between 1990-2015, approximately 152 sex workers were reported dead. Sex workers around the globe have been fighting for workers’ rights, as seen in Figure 3. 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

Figure 3: Sex workers protest for women workers’ rights to protect violence against women within the prostitution workplace in England and Wales. This march was led by the English Collective of Prostitutes organization.

regular jobs. The most popular organization in the UK that protests safety for sex-workers is the English Collective of Prostitutes. The English Collective of Prostitutes campaigns to decriminalize prostitution and fights for sex workers’ human, civil, legal and economic rights. They believe no-one should be forced into sex work and women should be safe doing their job. [8] The English Collective of Prostitutes works internationally with other similar organizations to protest and be a resource for all women. Women have also created pop-up brothels. With brothel-keeping being criminalized in the UK, pop-up brothels are transportable companies that sell sex via the internet. The engagement is usually taken place in a portable home or hotels and guest homes. [9] New technology advancements make it difficult for police forces to track down brothel-keeping or any underground sex exploitation. Many women are also taken into sex trafficking. Human trafficking has increased by 245% from 2011 to the present day. [10] 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. [11] 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 shifted from the streets to under-the-radar facilities. Young women are no longer see prostitutes roam the streets resulting in less females encouraged into the path of street 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] 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.

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

[5] 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

[6] 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

[7] Eastham, Janet. “A radical moment for Britain’s sex workers.” The Guardian. July 04, 2016. Accessed April 27, 2017.

[8] Sandino, César Amaya. “Prostitution in the UK (I): Poverty, the driving force.” English Collective of Prostitutes. July 15, 2012. Accessed April 27, 2017.

[9] Turner, Camilla. “More than 30 ‘pop-up’ brothels open each week in Swindon as police warn foreign prostitutes are being trafficked by eastern European gangs.” The Telegraph. February 05, 2017. Accessed April 27, 2017.

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

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


Figure 1: Wikipedia. “Prostitution in the United Kingdom.” Wikipedia. April 24, 2017. Accessed April 27, 2017.

Figure 2:  Sandino, César Amaya. “Prostitution in the UK (I): Poverty, the driving force.” English Collective of Prostitutes. July 15, 2012. Accessed April 27, 2017.

Figure 3: Townsend, Mark. “Modern slavery and human trafficking on the rise in UK.” The Observer. July 09, 2016. Accessed March 22, 2017.