for the first time in history , mass-market newspapers (in the Victorian era) were being created such as The Illustrated Police News which specialised in reporting on crime and criminals, using language and pictures that were far more lurid than that used in modern tabloids.
No one knows for certain, but there were somewhere between 8,000 and 80,000 prostitutes in London during the Victorian Age. It is generally accepted that most of these women found themselves in prostitution due to economic necessity. In 1875 the age of consent in Victorian Britain was raised from 12 to 13, but it was only after the public outrage that followed an investigative exposé into prostitution a decade later that it was raised to the current age of 16.
The words emblazoned in large print on top of the Pall Mall Gazette in the first week of July 1885 - NOTICE TO OUR READERS, followed by "A Frank Warning", set the tone for a week-long report titled The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon, exposing the lurid underworld of London's child prostitutes.
It was referred to as a "veritable slave trade".
The most shocking account focussed on a 13-year-old virgin, who was bought for the night by undercover journalist William Thomas Stead - posing as a client.
Her name was Eliza Armstrong. She was bought for £5 - the equivalent of around £527 today. She was taken to a midwife to "procure the certification of her virginity" who remarked - "The poor little thing… She is so small."
She was then brought to a brothel and drugged, and the paper's readers were led to believe the worst. She let out "a helpless, startled scream like the bleat of a frightened lamb", Stead wrote.
He described his undercover experience as: "The story of an actual pilgrimage into a real hell…"
He appealed directly to the upper classes - and accused them of being the main perpetrators. "If the daughters of the people must be served up as dainty morsels to minister to the passions of the rich, let them at least attain an age when they can understand the nature of the sacrifice which they are asked to make."The government was accused of neglecting "the daughters of the poor"
The press in Victorian Britain had considerable influence over public opinion.
Following Stead's exposé, the government passed a bill raising the age of consent to 16 before the week was out.
But had it not been for the help of a well-known social reformer at the time - Josephine Butler, this report would never have come to fruition.
She provided Stead with money to buy and rescue young prostitutes. She also put him in contact with a former brothel owner who found the girls whose stories ended up, in all their "shuddering horror", in the Pall Mall Gazette.
Butler had campaigned relentlessly for the rights of prostitutes but she found the government was not interested in raising the age of consent higher than 13.
"It took a scandal to change the law", says Dr Jane Jordan, who wrote a biography of Butler. "She felt it was the only way they were going to get their voices heard".
"Working class girls lived in terrible conditions and there were assumptions they would be abused by their fathers and brothers anyway. There was a lack of interest in these girls as it was not going to affect the more protected middle and upper classes."
Following publication of Stead's report, there was moral panic. There were stories of parents being stopped in the street by morality crusaders, says Will Sydney Robinson, author of a biography on Stead.
"There was a tangible change in the atmosphere, people were talking about these issues slightly like they are today."
It soon transpired that the mother of Eliza - the 13-year-old girl - had reported her missing and had been told her daughter would be a maid, not a prostitute. Stead had alleged the mother was an eager, drunken accomplice. His credibility came into question.
He was arrested for abducting a minor and spent three months in prison.
"Stead used modern methods of sensationalism, exaggeration and law-breaking to do a good thing, but there was a bitter taste from the whole thing," says Robinson.
The problem with sensationalism is that it distorts things, says historian Dr Louise Jackson from Edinburgh University.
The Gazette's report overshadowed the day-to-day exploitation that occurred in Victorian society, she adds. Sexual abuse of all kinds was taking place but it was "probably more mundane than Stead's suggestion of people being drugged, abducted and duped".
The same act clamped down on brothels, leaving many prostitutes homeless. It also contained a last minute amendment which outlawed "gross indecency" between two men - the very law that Oscar Wilde was later sent to prison for.
"It was undoubtedly a huge victory", says Jackson, "but it certainly wasn't a liberal act, it set a puritanical tone for the next 80 years, until homosexuality was finally decriminalised in 1967".
Stead continued to edit his paper while in prison and is remembered as one of the first investigate journalists. As for the young girl Eliza, she was cared for by the Salvation Army and eventually returned to her parents.
Under the acts - which were introduced to reduce the high levels of venereal diseases amongst the armed forces - any woman suspected of being a prostitute was subjected to compulsory medical examinations. Their male clients escaped any such censure.
She forced the women's movement to confront the issue, so that prostitutes could reform their lives and earn respect and dignity