On this day: Josephine Butler’s age of consent Bill becomes law

On 10 August 1885, the Criminal Law Amendment Act, which established the current age of consent of 16, became law.

The passing of the Act was the result of the tireless work of Christian campaigner Josephine Butler.

As well as raising the female age of consent from 13 to 16 for girls, the Act made it a criminal offence to procure girls for prostitution.


For many years, Josephine was concerned about the plight of young women and the inadequate legal provision that left poor girls vulnerable to predatory men.

At the time, there was no law against having sex with a girl aged twelve or older.

Josephine was appalled at the unwillingness of politicians, the judiciary and the press to acknowledge the problem, and resolved to do something about it.

Like Wilberforce and Shaftesbury before her, Josephine’s work faced serious opposition.

She showed tremendous courage in the face of contemporaries who derided her for speaking out on subjects that were considered inappropriate for respectable women.

‘Pray without ceasing’

Through personal loss and poor health, she developed a strong empathy with the pain of others.

She wrote in her diary: “I long to have a hundred voices, that with all of them I might pray without ceasing that Christ will come quickly and deliver for ever the poor groaning world.”

Ultimately, her brave campaigning led to the passing of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, which established a vital protection to shield children from harm.