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

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London County Council 1920

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

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Girls who have fled from home because of betrayal by their lovers or because of a "row with
their parents"; deserted wives; penniless widows; discharged prisoners; girls charged in the courts
with solicitation and unseemly behaviour and placed on remand by the magistrate; girls who
have been on the streets for some time, and who are "sick of the life," are often found to be willing
to listen to the earnest persuasions of the rescue worker, and to leave their horrible lives. They will
do so the more readily if they are given a fair chance of a new start in life at once, instead of being dragged
about all over the place from one home to another, and, in the end, failing to obtain admission. These
are some of the many examples which rescue workers quote in their universal appeal for a reception
house to which a girl can be taken at once, and thus be provided for until the rescue worker and the
agency she represents can decide the best course to adopt. Such an institution must have equipment
for cleansing verminous bodies and clothing, and for the examination of those girls who are willing to be
examined, to determine the presence or absence of venereal disease. The arrangements should also
permit of the provision of separate accommodation for some of the girls according to the matron's
discrimination. The period of residence should be as short as possible.
Upon the foundation of the "reception house" would be built up the organisation for the future
welfare of the great variety of girls who would pass through it. For these varied demands, whatever
they may be, rescue homes must either be organised, or must organise themselves, into groups which
will provide for certain classes of girls, e.g., there must be some discrimination with regard to their age,
upbringing, educational attainments, technical skill (if any), in certain trades or business, presence or
absence of venereal disease, etc., etc. During the short period of residence in the reception house,
all these important matters would be carefully enquired into by competent persons, and the. future
arrangements made accordingly. Any such re-organisation of the existing rescue homes would also
enable such important questions as their adaptability for certain forms of educational training to be
thought out and arranged. Thereafter the gaps still remaining in any direction could be filled up and
the process of development of any such scheme would thus become an economical and an efficient one
for everyone concerned. Presumably the educational training referred to could either be partially
provided or subsidised by the local education authority, and any such provision would be of great
assistance to the charitable societies engaged in the work.
Careful consideration has been given to the large body of evidence submitted by rescue workers
of all kinds as to the overwhelming need for the immediate provision of reception houses for the various
classes of cases referred to above. Many independent enquiries on this subject have also been made
by means of the staff of the Public Health Department of the Council, and as a result it would appear
that "the overwhelming need of the moment" is not so much the immediate provision of new accommodation
in the form of reception houses, as a careful survey of all the existing accommodation in refuges
and rescue homes with a view to their adaptability to the varied needs of rescue workers generally. Judging
from the enquiries made and the various conferences attended for the discussion of rescue work,
there appears to be a remarkable lack of knowledge amongst many rescue workers with regard to the
existence and activities of the numerous refuges, rescue homes, etc., engaged in similar work to that
of their own society or association. This lack of information is accountable to some extent for their too
frequent failure to obtain the kind of assistance which from time to time they urgently need, and that
very great benefit would accrue from the publication and distribution amongst all rescue workers of a
compact volume containing a complete statement of all these activities, in the shape of refuges, rescue
homes, etc., where situated, and the conditions of admission, etc. If, in addition to this, it were possible
to connect up every refuge and rescue home with the telephone exchange, an enormous amount of
unnecessary travelling, with consequential waste of time and money by rescue workers, looking for
immediate shelter for a young girl or woman, would be prevented.
Provided then that such a survey has been carried out there is no doubt that the re-organisation
of existing refuges and rescue homes on a properly grouped basis; the introduction of education and
training with a view to securing an independent means of livelihood for the rescued girl; the relaxation
to some extent of the rigid discipline of the past, and the allocation of some of the refuges and rescue
homes, or some of the beds at either or both, for girls suffering from venereal disease, would all prove
to be steps well worthy of consideration in the near future. The formation of a central committee of
all the bodies engaged in this work with a view to the careful reconsideration of the present position
in the light of experience acquired during the last 25 years, and thereafter, the drawing up of a comprehensive
scheme for the purpose of coping if possible, more adequately with the complex problems
associated with rescue and preventive work, than is possible at present, would be an extremely valuable
and practical first step at this moment.
The Metropolitan Asylums Board Institution, Sheffield-street, W.C.—In this connection it might be
of interest to refer to the fact that in November, 1919, the Ministry of Health informed the Metropolitan
Asylums Board that they had been approached by the Home Office with a view to the immediate provision
of accommodation for the reception and treatment of young girls and women suffering from venereal
disease who come into the hands of the Women Police patrols and who are willing to undergo treatment.
The Asylums Board thereupon agreed to set aside for this work the small hospital of 52 beds in Sheffieldstreet,
W.C'., which, during the war, had been used as an observation hospital and dispensary for war
Prostitution.—It is impossible for anyone to study venereal disease day after day without the
question constantly recurring in his mind, " Why do women prostitute themselves?" When one sees
quite young girls of 13, 14, 15 and 16 years old appearing as patients suffering from syphilis or
gonorrhoea or both, and boys and young men suffering similarly, it is natural to enquire into the
circumstances which led to their infection, and to wonder why so much attention is being given to
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