The story of Sir William Stead, a fighter against pedophiles, or How to buy a 13-year-old virgin in London
In Britain of the 19th century, girls who reached the age of 13 were recognized as adults. This was not at all surprising, because in the Victorian era, children could work in factories on an equal basis with adults, receiving pennies for it, and they also went to penal servitude in the colonies without any problems if they violated the laws of the kingdom.
In the 1880s, the British Empire was on the verge of adopting new laws prohibiting labor and especially sexual exploitation of citizens under the age of 16. The journalist William Thomas Stead was one of those who promoted positive changes, but in a very unusual way for that time.London-based journalist William Stead is considered a pioneer of investigative journalism. He was the first to decide to fully immerse himself in the topics that he covers, and this brought him fame, respect and... a lot of trouble. In 1885, when the topic of raising the age of majority was actively discussed in the UK, Stead published a large article in the popular magazine "Pall Mall", "The Sacrifice of the Virgin in Modern Babylon" (The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon).
It was a professionally executed journalistic investigation, in which the author showed how easy it is to buy the virginity of a 13-year-old girl in the most advanced and enlightened country on the planet. Stead agreed to buy a child for sexual pleasures for just 5 pounds, and this amount included a medical examination for confirmation of virginity.
A girl named Eliza Armstrong was taken to the doctor's office, who confirmed her chastity. After that, the child was put to sleep with chloroform and taken to one of the London brothels, where Stead was waiting for her in a separate room. The journalist was nearby until the moment when Eliza woke up. Seeing an unknown man near her, the girl screamed and this convinced the people nearby that the man had entered into sexual relations with the child.
In his work, Stead not only described the disgusting details of the fictitious transaction in the third person, but also focused the public's attention on some important details. He insisted that at the age of 12-13, children cannot adequately assess the situation and do not always understand that their parents betrayed them and sold them to a stranger, besides a pervert.
After a child has been taken advantage of by a pedophile, he has no choice but to spend the rest of his life in a brothel or go to the streets to wander and steal. In the article, Eliza Armstrong appeared under the name Lily, and Stead did not mention that the author himself acted as the buyer of the child.
The article in "Pall Mall" produced the effect of an exploding bomb in English society. The prosperous Victorian society, with its prudery and puritanical views on sexual relations, was far from understanding what was happening in the dirty slums of London, Liverpool and other megacities. William Stead opened the curtain and forced the middle class and representatives of high society to look into the sewers, about which it was more pleasant and profitable for everyone to remain silent.
Rally in London's Hyde Park
The release of the material "The Sacrifice of the Virgin in modern Babylon", which coincided with the discussion in The Parliament passed laws on changing the age of majority, which caused mass demonstrations of citizens across the country. The British protesters demanded to stop demagoguery and immediately protect children by adopting important legislative changes.
In the same year, 1885, under public pressure, the age of majority was raised from 13 to 16 years, and the sexual exploitation of children was outlawed. Stead became the most famous journalist in the country, but his triumph did not last long. His colleagues, who were passionately hungry for fame, began to actively search for the parents of the girl shown in the article as Lily, and soon were able to reach her own mother.
Inhabitants of urban slums in the 19th century
The British justice system, indifferent to child prostitution and human trafficking, clung to William Stead with a death grip, charging him with kidnapping a child from his parents. Numerous mistakes made by the journalist and his henchmen did not allow them to justify themselves before the court. They failed to prove that Miss Armstrong sold her daughter for the pleasures of a pedophile, and all the participants in this high-profile case were jailed.
Fortunately, the sentences in such cases in England were quite lenient and Stead received 3 months in prison, and his assistants received 6 months each. As we can see, if real perverts were in the place of journalists, they would have nothing to be particularly afraid of. Stead fully served his short term and later wrote with irony that the time spent in prison can be compared to an extended vacation.
The death of this remarkable man was no less glorious than his life. Stead was among the passengers of the Titanic during its first and last transatlantic voyage. After the collision with the iceberg, when the panic began on the ship, the famous journalist worked on the deck, helping to seat women, children and the elderly in the boats. When the ship tilted so that it was impossible to be above, Stead went to one of the salons of the steamer, where he bravely accepted death in an armchair, smoking a pipe and reading a newspaper.
Keywords: Victorian era | Children | Journalism | London | Pedophilia | Titanic | Trade