PROS: The Programme for the Reform of the Law on Soliciting, 1976–1982

Connell, Kieran. ‘PROS: The Programme for the Reform of the Law on Soliciting, 1976–1982’. Twentieth Century British History. November 2019.


In the late 1970s, a campaign was mounted to reform the legal landscape faced by sex workers, which had remained unaltered since a series of recommendations made in the Wolfenden Report were implemented by the government two decades earlier. While Wolfenden is commonly associated with the arrival of Britain’s ‘permissive’ 1960s, when it came to the issue of prostitution, it helped usher in even more restrictive conditions for sex workers. This article looks at attempts to challenge this status quo by focusing on the Programme for the Reform of the Law on Soliciting (PROS), which was founded in Birmingham in 1976 and became one of the most visible groups advocating for a change in the law. Its activities culminated with the 1982 Criminal Justice Act, which ostensibly abandoned the policy of imprisoning prostitutes on soliciting offences. The case of PROS, I argue, offers a further reminder of the afterlife of the liberalizing ethos associated with the 1960s. Moreover, it provides a different way of engaging with a historical conjuncture more commonly associated with themes such as rising individualism, the fragmentation of left-wing activism, and the arrival of Thatcherism.

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