II-"The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon" - W. T. Stead - Pall Mall Gazette

II-"The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon" - W. T. Stead - Pall Mall Gazette

"The Report of our Secret Commission"

by: W.T. Stead | publication date: July 7, 1885 | Publication: The Pall Mall Gazette |

I described yesterday a scene which took place last Derby day, in a well known house, within a quarter of a mile of Oxford-circus. It is no means one of the worst instances of the crimes that are constantly perpetrated in London, or even in that very house. The victims of the rapes, for such they are to all intents and purposes, are almost always very young children between thirteen and fifteen. The reason for that is very simple. The law at present almost specially marks out such children as the fair game of dissolute men. The moment a child is thirteen she is a woman in the eye of the law, with absolute right to dispose of her person to any one who by force or fraud can bully or cajole her into parting with her virtue. It is the one thing in the whole world which, if once lost, can never be recovered, it is the most precious thing a woman ever has, but while the law forbids her absolutely to dispose of any other valuables until she is sixteen, it insists upon investing her with unfettered freedom to sell her person at thirteen. The law, indeed, seems specially framed in order to enable dissolute men to outrage these legal women of thirteen with impunity. For to quote again from "Stephen's Digest," a rape in fact is not a rape in law if consent is obtained by fraud from a woman or a girl who was totally ignorant of the nature of the act to which she assented. Now it is a fact which I have repeatedly verified that girls of thirteen, fourteen, and even fifteen, who profess themselves perfectly willing to be seduced, are absolutely and totally ignorant of the nature of the act to which they assent. I do not mean merely its remoter consequences and the extent to which their consent will prejudice the whole of their future life, but even the mere physical nature of the act to which they are legally competent to consent is unknown to them. Perhaps one of the most touching instances of this and the most conclusive was the exclamation of relief that burst from a Birmingham girl of fourteen when the midwife had finished her examination."It's all over now," she said, "I am so glad."  "You silly child," said the procuress, "that's nothing. You've not been seduced yet. That is still to come." How could she know any better, never having been taught? All that the procuress had told her was that if she consented to meet a rich gentleman she would get lots of money. Even when an attempt is made to explain that there will be some physical pain, the information is so shrouded in mystery that in cases that have come under my own personal knowledge if the man had run a needle into the girl's thigh and told her that she was seduced, she would have believed it.

The second part of W.T. Stead's series on child prostitution