Who is she?
Josephine Butler was a British feminist and social reformer who campaigned for the rights of prostitutes. She was an active campaigner for women’s rights in her twenties, particularly after the death of her five-year-old daughter.
Josephine attacked the double standard of morality associated with prostitution and led a campaign to abolish the Contagious Diseases Act, which gave magistrates the power to order genital examinations of prostitutes and detain infected women in hospitals. To refuse the examination meant imprisonment. Either way, it meant prostitutes lost their livelihoods. Despite public vilification, she succeeded and the Act was repealed in 1886.
She also exposed the extent of child prostitution in the UK and her campaign led to the age of consent being raised from 13 to 16 in 1885 (you might remember suffragette Mary Lee did the same in Australia).
Why should we thank her?
Josephine recognised the sexual double standards held up to prostitutes (ahem, they still are today) and successfully fought to change their grossly unfair treatment at the hands of the law.
“Beware of purity workers [who are]…ready to accept and endorse any amount of coercive and degrading treatment of their fellow creatures in the fatuous belief that you can oblige human beings to be moral by force.”