The Legislative Background
This chapter provides a largely descriptive account of the evolution of secular legislation pertaining to prostitution between 1824 and 1950, with a brief reference to the earlier development of the law on vagrancy. It demonstrates the increasing complexity of the law in this area as different factions fought for the legal means to establish public order and provide protection for women and children from sexual abuse. Mary Poovey has argued that the British law on prostitution is contradictory in that it views women both as passive and in need of protection and as an aggressive force requiring control.1 The following account demonstrates that, although the different Acts have had conflicting aims, the protective aspect of the law was not extended to the prostitute but was intended to protect the chaste white woman from sexual exploitation. This has been achieved by maintaining that the ‘common prostitute’ was a member of a separate and identifiable group of women who were different from the normal.