Josephine Butler against the Contagious Diseases Act- Every woman, whether prostitute or not, has right to her body

 

 

 

 

Josephine Butler, spouse of an Anglican clergyman, campaigned against the Contagious Diseases Act which aimed at controlling the spread of sexual transmitted infections, basically in the army and in the military. The Act gave permission to government  and health officers to stop women on suspicion of being a prostitute, to forcible examine them by speculum, which Butler termed a kind of instrumental rape and to keep them in so called “lock hospitals” under lock, depriving them of freedom until they were perceived to be clear of signs of veneral disease as there was no real medical treatment for veneral disease in this period.

Butler argued that a women, whether prostitute or not, had right to her body, and that to be suspected of being a prostitute just because of being in the wrong place at the wrong time or because of being dressed wrongly was in contradiction with basic rights of human being and human body.

Woman from a middle class, spouse of very-high achieving clergymen, publicly spoke about sex and prostitution and asked why woman body was the one which is subject to control and why men who seek out for sexual contacts with prostitutes were not subject to control. Although there were huge pamphlet wars against what she was doing she felt empowered by her Christian beliefs to say that these women were full human beings and that they  should have full human rights and that they were not just bodies but people and political subjects.

 

 

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