W T Stead, by Natalie Scott

Editor of Pall Mall Gazette and campaigner for equality
Guilty of abduction – sentenced to two months, 1885

Our laws state that a girl of thirteen
is at the age of consent, and yet she is
not old enough to give witness in court.
My crime? Caring too much. I wanted
exposure, so I bought a girl and sold her.
Her parents accepted a slim price
and the brothel madam paid a slim price.
Deal done. Evidence acquired.

Our current laws don’t protect those
who make it their calling to pull back
the stained bed-covers of crime.
I was charged with abduction because
her parents could not fathom
how they could have done such a thing,
so pretended they hadn’t. Deny
all knowledge. Safest bet.

Our laws gave me time in Holloway. Not
so much a punishment as a treat. A
pleasant holiday in an enchanted castle. I
had a gas stove and kettle. Hot meals from
the tavern. I was in a state of journalistic
leisure with my books, paper, ideas. I
composed articles behind bars and passed
them for print. Luxury of time and space.

Our current laws allow such a waste
of resources. And the little girl is back with
parents who may sell her again if they
so choose because her voice is too young
to have a say, though her body is old enough
to have a child of her own. So she may
give birth at fourteen. And her life
will be over before it’s begun.

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