Published in the Pall Mall Gazette in July, 1885, "The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon" was Stead's highly scandalous expose of child prostitution. A tour de force of late nineteenth century prostitution, it exposed in graphic detail the entrapment, abduction and "sale" of young under-privileged girls to London brothels. Written in successive installments, Stead's "infernal narrative", as he called it, revealed to a respectable readership a criminal underworld of stinking brothels, fiendish procuresses, drugs and padded chambers, where upper-class paedophiles could revel "in the cries of an immature child."
Within days, the series was an international sensation, and in London, frenzied crowds of newspaper vendors lay siege to the Pall Mall Gazette offices for reprints. With sensational crossheads, such as "The Violation of Virgins" and "Strapping Girls Down", the "Maiden Tribute" threw London society into a state of moral panic, and forced, as a consequence, the passage of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, which raised the age of consent for girls from 13 to 16. Stead and several of his accomplices (including Bramwell Booth of the Salvation Army) were later brought to trial as a result of the unlawful methods used in the investigation (see the Eliza Armstrong Case) and Stead himself spent three months in prison for abduction.
© Owen Mulpetre 2012