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Emma Liggins

The social purity ‘crusade’ that gathered force after 1885 initiated a

change both in ways of representing prostitution and in public opinion

about ways of dealing with the sexually deviant woman. Since the

1860s the police had been granted the power under the Contagious

Diseases Acts to apprehend women of doubtful virtue in the streets and

insist that they be medically examined; if found to be diseased, they

could then be detained in lock hospitals. Once these acts were repealed

in 1885, prostitutes had greater freedom but were also kept under

surveillance by philanthropists and the medical profession. A variety

of discourses constructed the prostitute either as an innocent victim of

male lust or as a ‘demon’ and ‘contagion of evil’.1 Judith Walkowitz

has argued that such an ideological framework excluded the experience

of women who drifted into this lifestyle temporarily, and provided

‘a restrictive and moralistic image’ of the fallen woman.2 Arguably,

literary representations of prostitutes tended to flesh out the potentially

restrictive images used in feminist, medical and periodical

writing on the subject, though no form of discourse was immune to the

strong influence of the language of purity used by the members of the

National Vigilance Association (NVA) and its advocates.