The Josephine Butler Society




The United Nations Convention of 1949 for “the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others” declares in its preamble that ‘…prostitution  and the accompanying evil of the traffic in persons for the purpose of prostitution are incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person and endanger the welfare of the individual, the family and the community’.


Widespread ignorance of the cruel realities of prostitution is revealed whenever some aspect of it is considered newsworthy by the media and so attracts public attention.




Prostitution is not in itself illegal in England and Wales. Therefore, ‘decriminalising’ or ‘legalising’ prostitution is misleading and causes confusion. Public figures who do so ought to be better informed.


The Street Offences Act 1959 penalises women who loiter or solicit for the purpose of prostitution, but the achievement of that purpose is not an offence. Prostitutes have good cause to complain of the Act and the way it works. However, organisations which claim to represent them call for the abolition of ALL laws on prostitution, which would include the legislation, up dated by the Sexual Offences Act 1956, which has penalised procurers, brothel keepers and other exploiters of prostitution since 1885. Such ‘decriminalisation’ would benefit the exploiters by removing safeguards needed by all women. More recently, there was a further review in 2003 and now another in 2008/9 with proposed changes in prostitution law going through Parliament in the current session of 2009.


The Sexual Offences Act 1985 penalises men who solicit women for the purpose of prostitution. The soliciting must be persistent or likely to cause annoyance to the woman or women solicited, or nuisance to others in the neighbourhood. The law on soliciting is fairer to the clients than it is to the prostitutes.


The Society is completely opposed to any regulation of prostitution by the State, and to the decriminalisation of its exploiters. To legalise brothels would not clear the streets. Street prostitution still flourishes in countries where brothels are legal, there could be no more certain way of making matters worse than to legalise brothels or officially tolerate their existence. They would provide a legal market for prostitution and stimulate the national and international traffic in persons for the purpose of prostitution.




The great number of prostitutes are not free agents, but work under some degree of duress, sometimes in conditions which can justly be described as slavery. The victims of the traffickers are enticed, abducted or sold into prostitution from which it is almost impossible to escape. Women still form the big battalions of prostitutes, but the traffic extends to small children, to boys as well as girls. Male prostitutes are not immune from exploitation and ill-treatment.


The occupational hazards of prostitution include murder, rape, torture and mutilation, violence, involvement in petty crime and in pornography and blackmail, sexually transmitted disease including HIV and AIDS, drug addiction, alcoholism, brainwashing, de-personalisation and getting into debt.





The regular medical examination of prostitutes, whether arranged by themselves or required by law as in regulationist countries, gives their clients a false sense of security. A woman certified to be free of disease may be infected by her next customer and infect others before she is examined again. Moreover some infections may not be immediately identifiable, particularly in the case of the HIV virus; months may elapse before the infection is confirmed. It is noteworthy that the advocates of legal brothels do not propose that the far more numerous clients should be examined too.


The best safeguard against the sexually transmitted diseases is to refrain from irresponsible and promiscuous sexual behaviour, whether spontaneous or commercialised.




It is wishful thinking for regulationists to imagine that legal brothels, even if they were run by health or municipal authorities, would remain free of exploitation and corruption. What sort of people would be prepared to run them? In Part IV of their Working Paper on Offences relating to Prostitution and allied Offences (H.M.S.O. December 1982), the Criminal Law Revision Committee completely rejected proposals for the establishment of brothels and other regulationist measures. They said: 'It is not in the nature of prostitution that it can be made acceptable to society by being regulated. It is difficult, in any case, to see how a licensing authority could determine such questions as whether an applicant was a 'proper person' to run a brothel. . . '.


Please see below for recent health and well-being related policy modification.




It is unwise to ignore the lessons of history. From 1869 Josephine Butler (1828-1906) led the campaign for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts 1866-69, which imposed a system of state regulated prostitution on the continental model, first introduced in 1864. She condemned it as unjust, discriminatory, degrading, an encouragement to vice which would not diminish disease and above all as a violation of the rights of women. The Acts failed to stop the spread of venereal disease in the armed forces and increase the demand for women and girls for the brothels in the 18 garrison towns and naval bases named in the Acts. They were suspended in 1883 and repealed in 1886. The Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 raised the age of consent to 16 and provided sanctions against the exploiters of prostitution.


In 1875 Josephine Butler founded the British and Continental Federation for the Abolition of Government Regulation of Prostitution, subsequently, the International Abolitionist Federation, to which the Society is affiliated.


Recently, the JBS agreed as policy to promote the concept that for reasons of Health and Safety, two women plus a maid should be allowed to prostitute from the same premises. To facilitate this, JBS suggests that this arrangement could be called a ‘collective’, or 'co-operative'.


JBS campaigned for the removal of the label “common prostitute” since Josephine herself. At last the Home Office has listened to our replies to their paper “Paying the Price 2004” for in their “A co-ordinated Prostitution Strategy” published in 2006, under Government Response there is the proposal to remove the stigmatising term ‘Common Prostitute’.


In the Policing and Crime Act 2009, the lifetime label was indeed removed.  The Society is pleased with this removal, and the separation for a labelled woman from mainstream society.  To be labelled ‘Common Prostitute’ was a lifetime sentence and had employment implications, which was detrimental to any change of occupation.