Early feminists of the Social Purity movement, such as Josephine Butler and others, instrumental in securing the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts, began to turn towards the problem of child prostitution by the end of the 1870s.
Sensational media revelations about the scourge of child prostitution in London in the 1880s then caused outrage among the respectable middle-classes, leading to pressure for the age of consent to be raised again.
The investigative journalist William Thomas Stead of the Pall Mall Gazette was pivotal in exposing the problem of child prostitution in the London underworld through a publicity stunt.
In 1885 he "purchased" one victim, Eliza Armstrong, the 13-year-old daughter of a chimney sweep, for five pounds and took her to a brothel where she was drugged.
The phrase "within age" was later interpreted by jurist Sir Edward Coke as meaning the age of marriage, which at the time was 12 years of age.
Sir Edward Coke (England, 17th century) "made it clear that the marriage of girls under 12 was normal, and the age at which a girl who was a wife was eligible for a dower from her husband's estate was 9 even though her husband be only four years old." In the 16th century, a small number of Italian and German states set the minimum age for sexual intercourse for girls, setting it at 12 years.
Until the late 18th century, there was little understanding of childhood as a concept, and children were seen as "little adults".