There is a wealth of both primary and historiographical material available to the historian on this topic: contemporary pamphlet literature in general is particularly abundant, as are the works of religious figures, social anthropologists, and medical men; secondary literature abounds with texts on crime, popular politics, empire, gender and sexuality.
This serves to reinforce the argument that for Victorians, the moral aspects of life were inherently bound with the physical.
Prostitution became a field of academic study around the 1970s and due to its potentially sensitive nature, Mazo Karras writes that the historian must ‘steer clear between the dangers of portraying prostitutes as victims by concentrating too much on how others saw them and the danger of decontextualising them by concentrating too much on their agency’ (Houlbrook, 2006: 209).
Gilfoyle argues that around the 1980s there was a re-evaluation in the way the topic was approached: before, prostitution was studied in terms of its sensationalism, focusing on the very highest or lowest forms; references were ‘buried’ in works on public health, crime, and deviance.
However, post-1980s histories display a change in emphasis, focusing on the prostitutes themselves, and their role within wider society (Gilfoyle, 1999: 117-20).
This may be in part due to Walkowitz’s influential work (1980) which analysed the role of women, both those who were prostitutes and those who were not, in the passage and repeal campaigns of the Contagious Diseases Acts, in doing so exploring the place of the prostitute in wider Victorian society.
A vast literature has been produced on almost every aspect of the prostitute, her trade, and how both integrated into and reflected wider social beliefs and practices.
The reputation the Victorians earned in terms of their sexual prudery means that unbiased contemporary accounts are rare; consequently, historians may have insufficient sources to discuss Victorian sex and sexuality, prompting Phillips and Phillips to note that ‘more nonsense is probably talked about “The Victorians and Sex” than any other aspect of Victorianism’ (Phillips and Phillips, 1978: 99).
Thus caution needs to be exercised when studying this topic.
by Fraser Joyce, Department of History, Oxford Brookes University  During the nineteenth century prostitution became labeled as "The Great Social Evil" by contemporaries.
This article attempts to unravel some of the complexities in the circumstances surrounding this labeling by Victorians through the investigation of some of the problems and controversies which prostitution raised in society.
In studying the trade in terms of its social, medical and moral implications on Victorian life though contemporary writings, it can be demonstrated that the prostitute's failure to meet middle-class social and gender ideals, the threat she posed to the nation's health, and the moral implications of sin and vice meant that the prostitute had the potential to make an impact on every level of society, and thus attracted much public and state interest towards herself and her trade.