Feminism and the Politics of Prostitution in King's Cross in the 1980s

20 Century Br Hist. 2019 Jun 1;30(2):231-263. doi: 10.1093/tcbh/hwz011.


In the 1980s, prostitution resurfaced as the object of feminist politics as second-wave activists grappled with Thatcherism, prostitute rights, tenant activism, anti-violence movements, and changes in the street sex trade and in policing. These conflicting imperatives converged on King's Cross, London. Events in King's Cross highlight some general trends, especially shifts in policing and in the geographic dispersal of the street sex trade. King's Cross also possessed singular features. It was the epicentre of street prostitution in London and the destination for hundreds of northern women migrating to the metropolis to sell sex. Intensified policing of the street trade provoked a heated neighbourhood dispute between council tenants and a media-savvy prostitute rights group. The year 1982 also marked a new configuration in local politics: the control of Camden Council by Labour Left and the formation of the Camden Women's Committee. In this challenging environment, newly elected municipal feminists in Camden set out to devise a feminist practice around prostitution. They found themselves embroiled in local disputes over public space, gender justice, policing, municipal progressivism, and resident action.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Feminism*
  • History, 20th Century
  • London
  • Politics*
  • Sex Work / history*