Police and Prostitution

In June 1887 there had been a huge sensation caused by the the arrest of a 23 year old milliner. Her name was Miss Elizabeth Cass and she had been taken into custody by Police Constable Endacott who had spotted her walking on Regent Street in London and had made the assumption that a single lady out walking alone at that time of night must be a prostitute. 

A blindfoled police officer surrounded by criminals.
The Police Turned A Blind Eye

At her subsequent appearance in court the presiding magistrate, Mr Newton, had discharged her but had made it clear that he believed she was a prostitute. Telling her that she must change her behaviour in the future he had observed that a respectable woman would not allow herself to be seen in Regent Street at 9 O’clock at night!

Miss Cass was incensed by her treatment and, with the support of her employer, she had begun a campaign to clear her name. She had, she said, just been out buying a pair of gloves and to be labelled a prostitute just because of the time she went out to make the purchase was a gross slur on her good name.

Her case was taken up by both the press and Members of Parliament and the ensuing  publicity gave rise to a huge public outcry which resulted in the case against her being overturned and a humiliating censure of both the police and the Home Secretary.

Sir Charles Warren, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, reacted to this censure by ordering that no police officer was to arrest any woman he suspected of soliciting for purposes of prostitution unless a member of the public had made an actual complaint against her which could be backed up by corroborating evidence.

As a result of Warren’s order arrests fro prostitution showed a dramatic decline between 1887 and 1889 as beat officers decided it was better for them to ignore street walkers rather than risk the humiliation that their colleague PC Endacott had endured.

By the time the Jack the Ripper Murders began in August 1888 the local prostitutes felt confident enough to brazenly and publicly solicit for clients and it was almost impossible for a man to walk along certain streets in London without being constantly approached by emboldened street walkers.