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Points to Ponder
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"You will almost certainly have your own views on the subject....No matter; the important thing is that you are ready to give the subject thought, thus distinguishing yourself from the large proportion of mankind who, even in these enlightened days, would prefer not to acknowledge the prostitute's existence or concern themselves with the problems her existence creates. For ultimately it is ignorance which underlies the bigotry and prejudice that still bedevil the subject; in this... record, it is ignorance we hope to dispel."

"Harlots, Whores and Hookers- A History of Prostitution" by Hilary Evans /Taplinger Press 1979

The many- sometimes wacky- ways in which the world has viewed prostitution through the ages

On these pages we will bring you interesting, provocative, sometimes outrageous passages, excerpts and quotations from the many books and articles written about sex work. If any readers wish to share with us any articles or quotations about sex work, please feel free to e-mail or write us, listing the author, source, publisher and date of the quote or article. If any of the information contained herein is used by our readers, please list the source and author as provided at the end of the quote.


"The following ordinance, a compendium of objects courtesans were forbidden to wear or to own, gives a good idea of the irresistible temptations. The date is again 1562, year of major reform of the sumptuary law. 'Prostitutes of this city are forbidden to wear gold, silver, or silk, except for caps made of pure silk. They are not to wear chains, rings set with precious stones, or any other kind of ring or earring. In addition, they are not to wear any jewels, real or false, and this applies both inside and outside their houses, even when they are outside the city. Furnishings must conform in every way to the law. Forbidden are tapestries, fancy materials on the walls, elaborate headboards, decorated chests, gilded leathers. Instead, prostitutes are to use only Bergamasque or Brecian materials [rough materials manufactured in the mainland, mainly for export], fifty percent wool, plainly striped or colored as they are nowadays. They are not allowed to slash these materials [in order to insert, ribbon style, more precious ones]; if they do, they will be fined 10 ducats the first time and banished the next time.'

In order to enforce these laws, which few took seriously, the authorities bribed informers. . . Nevertheless, noblewomen bought their exemption from these laws and courtesans usually chose to ignore the restrictions ."

"Lives of the Courtesans" by Lynne Lawner- Rizzoli International Publications 1987

"Prostitute 'rehabilitation'

The acquired craving for the excitement of the prostitute's life- stated negatively in many instances by way of assertions that any other sort of life is intolerably dull- is encountered by almost every investigator of prostitution; and most dramatically by those who attempt the forcible or coercive rehabilitation of prostitutes.

One of the earliest known attempts at such forcible rehabilitation was made by the Empress Theodora, wife of Justinian, emperor of the Roman Empire of the East. Herself a former prostitute Theodora* was determined to 'redeem' other women of her one-time calling. At great expense, she had constructed on the south shore of the Bosporus a palace wherein harlots were to be confined and re-educated. One night, in Constantinople, 500 whores were seized upon her orders and forcibly conveyed to the palace. They were well treated there, and given whatever they wanted- with the exception that no males were permitted to enter the establishment and no prostitute was permitted to go outside it. It is recorded that many of the girls perished of sheer ennui, or escaped that lingering death by suicide. The experiment had to be abandoned as a total failure."

"Prostitution and Morality" by Harry Benjamin, M.D. & R.E.L. Masters Julian Press 1964

The Barbary Coast (USA)

"The number of girls in the parlor houses on San Francisco's Barbary Coast varied, of course, according to the brothel's size and popularity, but it was seldom less than five or more than twenty. . . The income of a parlor house prostitute was sometimes considerable; an occasional girl, if employed in a popular bagnio, earned as much as two hundred dollars a week. . . As a rule the owners of the resorts made enormous sums; many retired with fortunes.

The parlor houses also derived a considerable income from the sale of beer . . and hard liquor by the half pint and from music. Practically every resort was equipped with some sort of automatic- and in later years electrical- musical equipment, which played only when fed with nickels or quarters. A great deal of the revenue from the music and sale of liquor went to the police and politicians as graft, in addition to the regular payments, which were usually based on the number of girls in a house. Sometimes besides taking most of the coins which had been dropped into the machine, the greedy grafters levied a special unofficial tax upon each musical instrument; or ordered all music stopped and then permitted its resumption upon payment of another so-called tax or license fee. Again, they used a method similar to that which proved successful in 1911. In the late spring of that year the police forbade all music in houses of prostitution and ordered the removal and destruction of every musical instrument in the red-light district. A month later, in July, the proprietors of the house were told that they might provide music for the entertainment of their guests, but that it must be the music of the automatic harp. There wasn't such an instrument in the Barbary Coast, nut the lack was soon remedied. A few days after the bagnio- keepers had been notified, a salesman for a Cincinnati piano house appeared in the district and offered automatic harps for sale at $750 each, about four times what they could be bought for in the open market. But he bore references from important politicians and experienced no difficulty in making sales."

"Company Girls" Herbert Asbury-

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"Both the secular and religious ideal in the medieval period was to reclaim the prostitute if at all possible, and the medieval Christian was always conscious from the example of Mary Magdalene that a harlot could achieve salvation. Usually the machinery of the Church stood ready to assist women willing to leave the life of sin, although it was recognized that realistically chances for successful reform were slim. Still the hope of reform was there and two major avenues of reform were advance. Favored by most reformers were attempts to induce the repentant prostitute to enter the religious life, to become a nun.. . . In 1198 Pope Innocent III urged that all good citizens attempt to reclaim prostitutes. . .

A second method of dealing with the reformed prostitute was to encourage her to marry. . . In 1109 Pope Innocent II lauded those who married harlots in order to reform them and described their actions as not "least among the works of charity." Those who rescued public prostitutes and took them to wife were performing acts that would count for the remission of their own sins."

"Prostitution: An Illustrated Social History " Vern&Bonnie Bullough/ Crown Books 1978

  • Prostitution Folklore
  • ". . . One important kind of support that prostitutes gave each other may have been the folklore and cultural attitudes that linked them in a collective identity. Contemporary research indicates that the stories and humor that prostitutes share with one another emphasize the frailties and inadequacies of their customers. In the early twentieth century, much of the folklore of the brothel seems similarly to have turned on stories and legends that ridiculed either customers or 'virtuous society.' In this way, prostitutes' humor may have provided an important means of preserving their sense of self-esteem. For example, one story that received widespread currency and became popular during the thirties told of a furious hurricane that ripped the city of Albany, Georgia, apart. The school, church, firehouse, and important civic buildings were all destroyed by the devastation. The red-light districts, however, survived. The prostitutes laughingly explained, "Virtue is its own reward.'
  • "The Lost Sisterhood- Prostitution in America 1900-1918" by Ruth Rosen
  • "In the late 1800's, a police precinct in New York could be rated by the number of establishments featuring gambling and prostitution which could be systematically 'assessed' by the police. When Captain Alexander S. Williams was transferred to the Twenty-ninth Precinct, the city's most fashionable red-light district, he rubbed his hands together and spoke of moving up from "salt chuck" to "tenderloin." Thus the district was christened "the Tenderloin."
  • "POLICE CORRUPTION- A Sociological Perspective"

Edited by Lawrence W. Sherman

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Prostitution and
the Catholic Church

In medieval Europe, the Catholic Church not only condoned prostitution, but allowed it to be run out of the monasteries and convents. The phrase, "get thee to a nunnery" had nothing to do with a convent of "nuns" but rather the "nunnery" was a brothel. The exhortation was given to young men to keep them from trying to corrupt the virgin daughters of the townspeople.

In 1254, King Louis IX of France, decreed that all prostitutes be regarded as outlaws after it was discovered that a Parisian prostitute sat next to the queen of France in Church, and the queen, as was her custom, bestowed a kiss on her.When the identity of the woman reached the ears of the king, he decided that the only way to prevent future incidents was to outlaw prostitution throughout his kingdom.

"Prostitution: An Illustrated Social History " Vern&Bonnie Bullough/ Crown Books 1978

"The whores and their keepers of early Paris, became organized (unionized) at an early date, though the oldest corporations of prostitutes are known only through oral traditions, not written down until long afterwards. The roy des ribauds acted as their own representation at court."

* "The Oldest Profession A History of Prostitution" by Lugo Basserman/ Dorset Press1967

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". . .In 1917 the provisions of the law {The Mann Act of 1910] were further extended by the decision in the Caminetti v. United States to include even non-commercial sex. . . The result of such decisions was to change a law that had been designed to prevent white slavery to one designed to enforce morals, even declaring private amorous pleasure trips that crossed state lines to be illegal.

. . . The tendency of the U.S. Supreme Court for a time to include all sexual activity under the categories prohibited by the Mann Act undoubtedly reflected what was taking place in the United States. What had been intended to be an abolition movement had become a prohibition movement, far from the original intent of Mrs. {Josephine} Butler and her co-workers. The United States advanced further toward prohibition than any other country. The attack on illicit sex coincided with the movement to ban alcoholic beverages and just as the temperance drive became a prohibition movement so did the move against reglementation become prohibitionist.

. . .Even fornication was made a crime in many states. In 1920, for example, some twenty states regarded habitual fornication a punishable act, and in sixteen states a single act was enough to bring conviction. Such widespread legal measures against all aspects of sexual activity, however, made enforcement impossible. Most juries proved unwilling to convict for illegal fornication; moreover, the Supreme Court soon recognized that prostitutes had the same rights as other citizens and could be charged with or convicted of only a specific offense. Thus, simply police suspicion that a woman was a prostitute was not enough to have her arrested. Similarly, attempts of municipalities to enact ordinances that prohibited men from talking to suspected prostitutes on streets or sidewalks, or that states they could not walk along the sidewalk with prostitutes. have been ruled unconstitutional. As far as individual prostitutes were concerned, this meant that conviction could only come through the activities of vice officers who had to encourage a woman to solicit them to engage in sexual intercourse.

. . .the vice officer increasingly had to resort to dubious tactics to get a prostitute to commit herself; in the process he often crossed the thin line to entrapment.. . . Another difficulty with this kind of enforcement was that it was open to wide-scale bribery. An officer could appear to be unaware of prostitution taking place on his beat unless there was considerable public pressure for him to respond, and not infrequently this looking the other way by the police officer was something that could be and has been bought. "

"Prostitution: An Illustrated Social History " by Vern and Bonnie Bullough/ Crown Books 1978

Nothing ever seems to change- except the names and the faces! Police corruption and prohibition of prostitution go hand in hand... when will society get it?
How many more lives will the laws (and not the work) destroy before we change them?

"In most American communities brothels operated with the knowledge and connivance of the police. Polly Adler, most celebrated of all New York Madams, declared, 'My apartment became a hangout for the police themselves. On many an evening I should have had a green light out in the front as well as the red one which tradition says should be there.'

She quoted figures given her by Madam Rose,owner of a small local brothel, who paid one third of her earnings in protection to the police, plus and average of $1,000 a month in bails and fines. Even setting aside the moral issues involved, these figures represent a bitter indictment of the folly of making prostitution a criminal offense. For who was making most out of what Madam Rose's girls earned? Not the girls themselves; not the madam; but the police who had been entrusted by the community with the prevention of the activity in the first place. . . Such are the consequences when a community insists on making illegal an activity which it is powerless to eradicate."

"Harlots, Whores and Hookers- A History of Prostitution" by Hilary Evans /Taplinger Publishing 1979

"The simple fact that a girl an earn far more than in any other way, and earn it far more easily, by lying on her back and spreading her legs, is evident to every female. Faced with a choice between starvation on the one hand, and overcoming an instinctive reluctance on the other, it is hardly surprising that women in desperate situations have at times turned to prostitution as the way out."

"Harlots, Whores and Hookers- A History of Prostitution" by Hilary Evans /Taplinger Publishing 1979


"One thing should be made very clear to the girl who comes to the city, and that is that the ordinary ice cream parlor is very likely to be a spider's web for her entanglement. This is perhaps especially true of those ice cream and fruit stores kept by foreigners. Scores of cases are on record where young girls have taken their first step towards "white slavery" in places of this character. And it is hardly too much to say that a week does not pass in Chicago without the publication in some daily paper of the details of a police court in which the ice cream parlor of this type is the scene of a regrettable tragedy. The only safe rule is to keep away from places of this kind, whether in a big city like Chicago or in a large country town.

I believe that there are good grounds for the suspicion that the ice cream parlor, kept by the foreigner in the large country town, is often a recruiting station, and a feeder for the "white slave" traffic. It is certain that this is the case in the big city, and many evidences point to the conclusion that there is a kind of fellowship among these foreign proprietors of refreshment parlors which would make it entirely natural and convenient for the proprietor of a city establishment of this kind, who is entangled in the "white slave" trade, to establish relations with a man in the same business and of the same nationality in the country town. I do not mean to intimidate by this that all the ice cream and fruit "saloons" having foreign-born proprietors are connected with the "white slave" traffic- but some of them are, and this fact is sufficient to cause all careful and thoughtful parents of young girls to see that they do not frequent these places."

"Fighting the Traffic in Young Girls" by Ernest A. Bell Self- published book 1911

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"Countless attempts to "help' prostitutes have been made in the past by wel intentioned matrons, calling themselves "Friendlly Visitors" or some other title, and by evangelists and other pestiferous parsons who have assailed their captive audiences of jailed strumpets with noisy prayers and calls for repentance. Some writers have reported with hopefully feigned) horror that the harlots have subjected the men of the cloth to awful abuse and horrendous vilification. But is that any cause for wonder- or for much more than applause? One need be no hardened harlot to bitterly resent being victimized by unsolicited salvationists. Such persons, by their unrealistic approaches, can only persuade the whore that "society" is indeed not for her, and that her own life, however dismal (if at all), and her own companions. . . are probably preferable to the 'squares' on the other side of the fence."

"Prostitution and Morality" Harry Benjamin, M.D. & R.E.L. Masters (1964) Julian Press


"Our press, whenever some prostitution scandal erupts, plays the story to the hilt, sometimes feigning moralistic outrage, sometimes taking obvious delight in a "good story."

. . . . It is bad enough that we preach one thing and practice another in this matter, that we indulge in limitless hypocrisy where prostitution is concerned, and that corrupt officials on all governmental levels traditionally are able to fatten on our hypocrisy. But what is really deplorable is that, while we revel in the latest prostitution expose, we entirely lose sight of the fact that prostitutes are real individuals, capable of being made to suffer, and able to be destroyed. There are women whose faces, at the height of some vice scandal, are as well known to us as those of our political leaders and even our top athletes and film stars. The publicity is utterly disproportionate to the gravity of the "offense". . . the penalty handed down by the courts to such a woman is usually not too stiff; but the damage done by the publicity can be enormous and its duration indefinite."

"Prostitution and Morality" Harry Benjamin, M.D. & R.E.L. Masters (1964) Julian Press

Victorian moral historian Lecky wrote of the prostitute:

"The supreme type of vice, she is ultimately the most efficient guardian of virtue. But for her, the unchallenged purity of countless happy homes would be polluted, and not a few who, in the pride of their untempted chastity, think of her with an indignant shudder, would have known the agony of remorse and despair.... She remains, while creeds and civilations rise and fall, the eternal priestess of humanity, blasted for the sins of the people."

History of European Morals, 1869
  • Courtesans and Their Lovers
    "Because courtesans had such an important function in Italian Renaissance society, their history incorporates the stories of the most influential men of their time- rulers, churchmen, and, inevitably, writers and artists, great numbers of whom strove for a niche in courtesans' hearts as well as for a place in their beds.
    "Lives of the Courtesans by Lynne Lawner/ Rizzoli 1987
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  • Public Opinion, Scandal and the Prostitute
    "The Government has made small slips before, of course. It has made minor errors of economic policy. It has occasionally deported the wrong people. It has gambled on the wrong defense system. It invaded the wrong country. All these peccadilloes could be forgiven- none of them involve anything worse than the loss of a few hundred lives, or the waste of a hundred million pounds, or putting half a million men out of work . But now a member of the Government has slept with the wrong woman, and as a consequence severely strained this country's newsprint resources."
    Michael Frayne on the Profumo Case

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