During the Victorian era, the age of consent was only 13 years old. Child labor still existed at the time. Many lower-class people saw their children as commodities because they could bring income into the family. Boys and girls as young as 11 or 12 could pass as 13-year-olds and had no choice but to enter the trade if their parents sold them into it.
W.T. Stead, who has been called the very first investigative journalist, published “The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon” in Pall Mall Magazine. During his investigation, Stead took it upon himself to prove how easy it was to purchase the virginity of a 13-year-old girl. For a mere £5, Stead purchased someone’s daughter, whom he called “Lily.” This covered the cost of a medical examination to ensure that she was a virgin, and a cut also went to the brothel owner. Since she was still a child, Lily’s parents, who were alcoholics, were the ones who took the money she earned as a prostitute.
After confirming that she was a virgin, the medical examiner recommended that Stead drug her with chloroform so she would be unconscious and not put up a struggle while he raped her. The public was horrified when they read Stead’s articles, and his work led to the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885, which made the age of consent 16 years old.
W.T. Stead is seen as a hero for fighting for the rights of women, and he was nominated with a Nobel Peace Prize. He died on the Titanic in 1912. Today, the Stead Memorial Fund continues to fight against sex traffickin