William Thomas Stead was a Victorian newspaper editor and social activist whose Leap of Faith was to highlight the plight of trafficked women helped raise the age of consent from 13 to 16.
Extracts from W.T. Stead, ‘The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon,’ The Pall Mall Gazette (London, 6 July 1885):
"This very night in London, and every night, year in and year out, not seven maidens only, but many times seven, will be offered up as the Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon.
“Tonight their ruin will be accomplished, and tomorrow they will find themselves within the portals of the maze of London brotheldom. Many thousands of women...are literally killed and made away with - living sacrifices slain in the service of vice.
“For four weeks I have been exploring the London Inferno...spending hours alternately in brothels and hospitals, in the streets and in refuges. Crime of the most ruthless and abominable description is constantly and systematically practised in London without let or hindrance, I am in a position to prove from my own personal knowledge - a knowledge purchased at a cost of which I prefer not to speak.
"Those crimes may be roughly classified as follows: The sale and purchase and violation of children, The procuration of virgins, The entrapping and ruin of women, The international slave trade in girls, Atrocities, brutalities, and unnatural crimes.”
W.T. Stead worked with Florence and Bramwell Booth of The Salvation Army to expose the horrors of child trafficking and prostitution.
They knew they had to provide unshakable evidence so they staged the abduction of 13-year-old Eliza Armstrong. Eliza was sold by her mother for £5.
Stead published his investigation in The Pall Mall Gazette at great cost to himself - he was imprisoned for 3 months.
Consequently, the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 was passed. It was ‘an act to make further provision for the protection of women and girls, the suppression of brothels, and other purposes.’ The act included a change to the age of consent from 13 to 16.
More than 130 years later The Salvation Army is still fighting to end Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery. Read more about our specialist support programme for victims.