In Italy, the age of consent is 14. I never questioned it. If anything I wondered why in the UK it was 16. Now I know. It is thanks to the efforts of many reformers, including William Stead, editor of the Pall Mall Gazette and inventor of the modern tabloids, who exposed the trade in young girls in Victoria Britain, and created a huge scandal in the process.
At the time, the age of consent was 13. This allowed innocent young girls to be sexually exploited, both at home and abroad. To demonstrate to the country how easy it was to buy a girl for the sex trade, and even smuggle her abroad to work in Belgian brothels, William Stead decided to purchase one of these unfortunate souls. He then featured her story in his revealing, shocking, and eye-opening series of articles, “The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon”. That forced the lawmakers, many of which were against reforms, to change the law.
But the story doesn’t end there. Although Stead didn’t hurt the girl he bought, but entrusted her to the care of the Salvation Army, he still ended up, together with his accomplices, in court, on trial for abducting her. Some were absolved, while others went to prison, and even died there, martyrs for justice.
The Armstrong Girl is a great piece of social history that should be taught in every school. It opens our eyes to a side of Victorian England that’s still hidden in the shadows, enlightens us on how the problem was dealt with in the UK, and encourages us to reflect on what we can do today to end the sex trafficking trade, which, sadly, shows no sign of disappearing for good. Captivating and engaging, this is a book you can’t miss.
Engaging and captivating, The Armstrong Girl is a great piece of social history that should be taught in every school. It enlightens readers about the horrors of the sex trade and what the Victorians did to fight it.
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