chapter  IV
26 Pages

Existing Provision for the Control and Relief of Prostitutes.

I HAVE now passed in review before the reader the leading features of prostitution, as exhibited in this country, and I have shown him the vast extent of the evil, by placing before him the numbers of the women who snatch a precarious living from this life of sin. Some, as we have seen, enjoy in their turn, for a brief season, a pre-eminence in guilt, on whom large sums are lavished, to be recklessly squandered on the adornment of their bodies, and indulgence in sensual excesses, without thought for the time of want and misery that surely overtakes the prostitute who prolongs the pursuit of her calling beyond her prime to that sad period when health, and youth, and beauty, and all that renders woman attractive, are no longer hers; while others, and these the vast majority, are forced to give, in exchange for the bare means of keeping life, all that makes life worth having, and are ofttimes sunk so low as to abandon their bodies for the poor return of a few paltry pence. The ruin wrought on these wretched women is bad enough, but, as we have seen, it is not all, or nearly all, the evil produced by the system. Vice does not hide itself, it throngs our' streets, intrudes into our parks and theatres, and other places of resort, bringing to the foolish temptation, and knowledge of sin to the innocent; it invades the very sanctuary of home, destroying conjugal happiness, and blighting the hopes of parents. Nor is it indirectly only that society is injured; we have seen that prostitutes do not, as is generally supposed, die in harness; but that, on the contrary, they for the most part become, sooner or later, with tarnished bodies and polluted minds, wives and mothers; while among some classes of the people the moral sentiment is so depraved, that the woman who lives by the hire of her person is received on almost equal terms to social intercourse, It is clear, then, that though we may call these women outcasts and pariahs, they have a powerful influence for evil on all ranks of the community. The moral injury inflicted on society by prostitution is incalculable; the physical injury is at least as great. Let us take the case of London: in this city, as the return shows, there are 6515 women known to the police to be prostitutes; it is not too much to say that out of every four of these women one at least is diseased, so that

we have among us more than 1500, at a moderate computation, human beings daily engaged in the occupation of spreading abroad a loathsome poison, the effects of which are not even confined to the partakers of their sin, but are too often transmitted to his issue, and bear their fruits in tottering limbs and tainted blood. Broken constitutions, sickly bodies, and feeble minds are times out of number the work of the prostitute. In a few words, then, prostitution consigns to a life of degradation thousands of our female population, ruining them utterly body and soul, who in their turn retaliate on society the wrong inflicted on themselves. It makes our streets unfit thoroughfares for the modest, and a reproach to us when compared with the decency observable in foreign cities. It exercises an evil influence on the nation at large, depraving the minds and lowering the moral tone. It is the cause of disease, premature decay, untimely death. Having thus become to .a certain extent acquainted with the evil whose ravages we desire to mitigate, we may now shortly examine the actual state of the law with regard to it-that is, what pressure it is in the power of the authorities to exercise upon it, and how far that power is exerted.