London's Pulse: Medical Officer of Health reports 1848-1972

View report page

London County Council 1920

Annual report of the Council, 1920. Vol. III. Public Health

This page requires JavaScript

No doubt the latter objections are also based upon the fear of infection. In view of the importance
of these considerations in connection with any future developments in the direction of the use of
rescue homes for the temporary accommodation of girls in attendance at venereal disease clinics, it appears
to be desirable to express the opinion that the fear of infection is greatly exaggerated and that, with
reasonable and easily carried-out precautions, the risk is practically nil.
The fact that girls who have freely exposed themselves to the risk of contracting venereal disease,
have for many years past been admitted to rescue homes, with no other safeguard to exclude venereal
disease cases than the opinion of an untrained lay person, and that no case has ever been recorded in
such homes, so far as can be ascertained, of the transmission of infection from one inmate to another,
is surely very strong evidence of the slight nature of the risk. If, however, suitable arrangements
were made, where necessary, to adopt the simple precautions which are desirable, no doubt
many of those responsible for the control and management of rescue homes would be prepared to
modify the present restrictions, and any additional beds thus made available to those provided in hostels,
would be of great practical assistance to those responsible for carrying on the work of the London
venereal disease clinics. On the other hand, it may be a simpler plan for a central committee to be
established, representing the various bodies interested in rescue home work, and for such a committee
to devise a scheme whereby a limited number of the rescue homes in carefully selected areas of London
would reserve all their accommodation for cases of venereal disease, and so avoid altogether the difficulties
which they may fear will arise in homes where mixed cases are taken.
Other forms of rescue work.—During the last few months, there have been numerous opportunities
for interviewing and conferring with a large number of persons representing a great variety of agencies
all occupied actively in rescue and prevention work in the streets of London. Amongst these may be
mentioned the Women Police, the Police Court Missionaries, the Church Army, the Salvation Army,
the Young Men's Christian Association, and Young Women's Christian Association, and many others.
Some of these agencies have been at work for many years, others sprang into existence during the war,
and occupied themselves mainly with the protection of the sailor and soldier, not only from the risk
of the contraction of venereal disease, but also theft, etc. (vide Appendix "C"). After the war was over, •
there was a strong feeling that the work should be continued for the benefit of the demobilised service
men, and owing to the fact that many of these men were often in the possession of quite large sums
of money and on their way home, there were very good reasons for the continued activities of the rescue
worker in the streets of London. Moreover, with the close of the war, there came a gradual cessation
of munitions and other war work, with the result that many girls, unable to earn the high wages they
had become accustomed to, went on to the streets either to supplement their smaller earnings in other
work, or because they said they had no other opportunity to earn money. It is noteworthy that many
of these were girls who had been attracted to London from various parts of the country during the war,
owing to the high wages paid in the munition factories, and for various reasons of their own found the
life of London so much more attractive than the country, that they decided to remain on the chance
of getting some other employment. According to the testimony of many reliable rescue workers, a
very large percentage of these girls are quite young (16—20), and suffering from venereal disease. In
addition to these girls, many of whom might be regarded as "temporary" prostitutes, there are, of
course, the usual quota of regular prostitutes. It would be possible to give numerous instances of the
various types of girl prostitute with whom rescue workers have to deal daily either in the streets or courts
or coming out of prison after short terms of imprisonment for various offences, but it will suffice here
to direct attention to certain reports in the appendix for fuller information on this point. It is important,
however, to draw attention to the universally expressed desire amongst rescue workers for the provision
of what may be conveniently termed "reception houses. "The Women Police, Police Court Missionaries,
Young Men's Christian Association, Young Women's Christian Association, and other rescue workers
bear emphatic testimony to the fact that such houses are the overwhelming need of the moment in
connection with rescue work.
What is meant by the "reception house."—To understand the importance of the" reception
house " to the rescue worker, it is necessary, first of all, to grasp firmly the fact that to be able to seize
and to take full advantage of the "psychological moment" is an essential factor for successful rescue
and preventive work. Every rescue worker can quote innumerable instances of cases where, if they
had been able to provide immediate shelter for a girl, she would have gladly taken advantage of the
opportunity and would either have been saved from going on the streets or have left the streets, if she were
actually a prostitute. The oft-told tale of the failure to obtain such accommodation, even after the
rescue worker has toiled about for hours in trams, buses and taxicabs all over London, trying to get the
girl first into one place and then another, and still another, and finding every one full, and finally having
to admit failure, is a terribly sad one, more especially when the failure to find such shelter has resulted
in the girl becoming tired and disgusted and, in this reckless and despairing mood, going on or
returning to the streets.
Similarly girls who are pregnant and suffering from venereal diseases, and for whom no accommodation
but the workhouse is available, present a difficult problem. Many instances have occurred
where women in this position have actually carried on the life of prostitution until just immediately before
their confinement. Other examples quoted were those of girls who had come up to London in response
to advertisements for situations, found them to be undesirable and left hurriedly. Perhaps their slender
resources are stolen or exhausted before another situation is found, with the result that they stray into
undesirable lodging houses, or get into bad company, or are picked up by men, etc. Fortunately, some
cases of this kind come to the notice of rescue workers before they get into trouble ; many more, unfortunately,
have already fallen. For such cases immediate shelter is wanted until suitable and proper
provision can be made for them.