History of prostitution
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Ancient Near East
As early as the 18th century B.C., the ancient society of Mesopotamia recognized the need to protect women's property rights. In the Code of Hammurabi, provisions were found that addressed inheritance rights of women, including female prostitutes. For example, if a dowry was established by the father for his unwedded daughter, upon his death, her brothers (if she had any) would act on her behalf as her trustee. However, if the woman received the property as a gift from her father, she owned the property outright and could leave the property to whomever she pleased.
In ancient Greek society, prostitution was engaged in by both women and boys. The Greek word for prostitute is porne (Gr: πόρνη), derived from the verb pernemi (to sell), with the evident modern evolution. The English word pornography, and its corollaries in other languages, are directly derivative of the Greek word porne (Gr: πόρνη). Female prostitutes could be independent and sometimes influential women. They were required to wear distinctive dresses and had to pay taxes. Some similarities have been found between the Greek hetaera and the Japanese oiran, complex figures that are perhaps in an intermediate position between prostitution and courtisanerie. (See also the Indian tawaif.) Some prostitutes in ancient Greece, such as Lais were as famous for their company as their beauty, and some of these women charged extraordinary sums for their services.
In ancient Rome, there were some commonalities with the Greek system; but as the Empire grew, prostitutes were often foreign slaves, captured, purchased, or raised for that purpose, sometimes by large-scale "prostitute farmers" who took abandoned children. Indeed, abandoned children were almost always raised as prostitutes. Enslavement into prostitution was sometimes used as a legal punishment against criminal free women. Buyers were allowed to inspect naked men and women for sale in private and there was no stigma attached to the purchase of males by a male aristocrat.
During the Middle Ages, prostitution was commonly found in urban contexts. Although all forms of sexual activity outside of marriage were regarded as sinful by the Roman Catholic Church, prostitution was tolerated because it was held to prevent the greater evils of rape, sodomy, and masturbation (McCall, 1979). Augustine of Hippo held that: "If you expel prostitution from society, you will unsettle everything on account of lusts". The general tolerance of prostitution was for the most part reluctant, and many canonists urged prostitutes to reform.
After the decline of organised prostitution of the Roman empire, many prostitutes were slaves. However, religious campaigns against slavery, and the growing marketisation of the economy, turned prostitution back into a business. By the High Middle Ages it is common to find town governments ruling that prostitutes were not to ply their trade within the town walls, but they were tolerated outside if only because these areas were beyond the jurisdiction of the authorities. In many areas of France and Germany town governments came to set aside certain streets as areas where prostitution could be tolerated. In London the brothels of Southwark were owned by the Bishop of Winchester. (MCCall) Still later it became common in the major towns and cities of Southern Europe to establish civic brothels, whilst outlawing any prostitution taking place outside these brothels. In much of Northern Europe a more laissez faire attitude tended to be found. Prostitutes also found a fruitful market in the Crusades.
By the end of the fifteenth century attitudes seemed to have begun to harden against prostitution. An outbreak of syphilis in Naples 1494 which later swept across Europe, and which may have originated from the Columbian Exchange, and the prevalence of other sexually transmitted diseases from the earlier sixteenth century may have been causes of this change in attitude. With the advent of the Protestant Reformation, numbers of Southern German towns closed their brothels in an attempt to eradicate prostitution. In some periods prostitutes had to distinguish themselves by particular signs, sometimes wearing very short hair or no hair at all, or wearing veils in societies where other women did not wear them. Ancient codes regulated in this case the crime of a prostitute that dissimulated her profession. In some cultures, prostitutes were the sole women allowed to sing in public or act in theatrical performances.
In the 19th century, legalized prostitution became a public controversy as France and then the United Kingdom passed the Contagious Diseases Acts, legislation mandating pelvic examinations for suspected prostitutes. This legislation applied not only to the United Kingdom and France, but also to their overseas colonies. In 1839, in London, a city of two million inhabitants, there were estimated to be up to 80,000 prostitutes.
Many early feminists fought for repeal of these laws, either on the grounds that prostitution should be illegal and therefore not government regulated or because it forced degrading medical examinations upon women. A similar situation did in fact exist in the Russian Empire; prostitutes operating out of government-sanctioned brothels were given yellow internal passports signifying their status and were subjected to weekly physical exams. Leo Tolstoy's novel Resurrection describes legal prostitution in 19th-century Russia.
Originally, prostitution was widely legal in the United States. Prostitution was made illegal in almost all states between 1910 and 1915 largely due to the influence of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union which was influential in the banning of drug use and was a major force in the prohibition of alcohol. In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson wanted all prostitution ended near any military and naval base as America prepared to enter World War I.
In 1956, the United Kingdom introduced the Sexual Offences Act 1956, which would partly be repealed, and altered, by the Sexual Offences Act 2003. While this law did not criminalise the act of prostitution itself, it did prohibit such activities as running a brothel, and soliciting.
Beginning in the late 1980s, many states increased the penalties for prostitution in cases where the prostitute is knowingly HIV-positive. These laws, often known as felony prostitution laws, require anyone arrested for prostitution to be tested for HIV, and if the test comes back positive, the suspect is then informed that any future arrest for prostitution will be a felony instead of a misdemeanor. Penalties for felony prostitution vary in the states that have such laws, with maximum sentences of typically 10 to 15 years in prison. An episode of COPS which aired in the early 1990s detailed the impact of HIV/AIDS among prostitutes; this episode is deemed as part of HIV/AIDS awareness.
Sex tourism has emerged in the late 20th century as a controversial aspect of Western tourism and globalization. Sex tourism is typically undertaken internationally by tourists from wealthier countries. Author Nils Ringdal alleged that three out of four men between the ages of 20 and 50 who have visited Asia or Africa have paid for sex.
- Prostitution in art and literature
- Harris's List of Covent Garden Ladies
- Whore dialogue