1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Prostitution

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PROSTITUTION (from Lat. prostituere, to expose publicly), a word which may best be defined as promiscuous unchastity for gain. In German law it is described as Gewerbsmässige Unzucht. It has always been distinguished in law and custom from concubinage, which is an inferior state of marriage, and from adultery and other irregular sexual relations, in which the motive is passion. Prostitution has existed in all civilized countries from the earliest times, and has always been subject to regulation by law or by custom. In Christian countries attempts have repeatedly been made to suppress it, but without success. Its ultimate basis lies in the two most elementary attributes of living things, namely, the will to live and the instinct of reproduction. The one represents the interest of the individual, the other that of the race; and the essential character of prostitution is that it utilizes the latter to satisfy the former, whereas in true sexual passion, as Schopenhauer has pointed out, the advantage of the individual is subordinated to the needs of the race. In practical language, prostitution offers, through abuse of the sexual instinct, a means of livelihood which a certain proportion of women prefer to other means. It is often assumed by philanthropic moralists that no other means are open to them. That may be so in cases in which deception or constraint has been used, and adverse circumstances—such as lack of friends and a harsh social code—close the door to other occupations; but to suppose that such cases account for prostitution is to misapprehend the problem. The detailed investigations of various observers and the experience of rescue societies prove that the great majority of prostitutes prefer that means of livelihood to others entailing regular work, discipline and self-control. When they really cease to prefer the life, they leave it voluntarily.[1] Otherwise there is extreme difficulty in reclaiming even the few who will consent to try, and permanent success is only attained with a small proportion of them. The earliest attempt at reclamation met with the same result. It was carried out by the Roman empress Theodora, wife of Justinian, herself a prostitute in early life. She established a home for 500 women on the Bosporus, but after a time they could not bear the restraint; some threw themselves into the sea, and eventually the scheme was abandoned. The preference is due to several causes, of which indolence is the chief. Prostitutes are drawn mainly from the lower classes; the life offers them an escape from the toil which would otherwise be their lot. Women who present themselves to the police for inscription on the continent of Europe frequently give as their reason for embracing the life, that they do not intend to work any more. Other causes are love of excitement and dislike of restraint. The same qualities make the criminal and the wastrel. In addition, a large proportion have the sexual appetite developed in an abnormal degree. Of 3505 women interrogated by M. Buls in Brussels, 1118 admitted le goût pour l'homme. The foregoing are primary causes. External conditions which foster any of these tendencies, or destroy the self-respect and sense of modesty which are their natural antidotes, are secondary causes of prostitution. The more important are: (1) difficulty of finding employment; (2) excessively laborious and ill-paid work; (3) harsh treatment of girls at home; (4) promiscuous and indecent mode of living among the overcrowded poor; (5) the aggregation of people together in large communities and factories, whereby the young are brought into constant contact with demoralized companions; (6) the example of luxury, self-indulgence and loose manners set by the wealthier classes; (7) demoralizing literature and amusements; (8) the arts of profligate men and their agents. Alcohol is often an aid to prostitution, but it can hardly be called a cause, for the practice flourishes even more in the most abstemious than in the most drunken countries. These observations apply to the West. In Oriental countries girls are commonly born into or brought up to the trade, and in that case have no choice.

Among the ancient nations of the East, with the exception of the Jews, prostitution appears to have been connected with History. religious worship, and to have been not merely tolerated but encouraged. From the Mosaic ordinances and the narrative of the Old Testament it is clear that the separation of the Jews as the chosen people, and the maintenance of their faith, were always felt by Moses and by the later prophets to be chiefly endangered by the vicious attractions of the religious rites practised around them. The code of sexual morality laid down in the Book of Leviticus is prefaced by the injunction not to do after the doings of the land of Egypt, nor after the doings of the land of Canaan, where all the abominations forbidden to the Jews were practised; and whenever the Israelites lapsed from their faith and “went a-whoring, after strange gods,” the transgression was always associated with licentious conduct. In Egypt, Phoenicia, Assyria, Chaldea, Canaan and Persia, the worship of Isis, Moloch, Baal, Astarte, Mylitta and other deities consisted of the most extravagant sensual orgies, and the temples were merely centres of vice. In Babylon some degree of prostitution appears to have been even compulsory and imposed upon all women in honour of the goddess Mylitta. In India the ancient connexion between religion and prostitution still survives; but that is not the case in China, a most licentious country, and, considering the antiquity of its civilization, and its conservatism, we may perhaps conclude that it formed an exception in this respect among the ancient nations. Among the Jews, who stood apart from the surrounding peoples, the object of the Mosaic law was clearly go preserve the purity of the race and the religion. Prostitution in itself was not forbidden, but it was to be confined to foreign women. Jewish fathers were forbidden to turn their daughters into prostitutes (Lev. xix. 29), and the daughters of Israel were forbidden to become prostitutes (Deut. xxiii. 17), but no penalty was attached to disobedience, except in the case of a priest's daughter, who was to be burnt (Lev. xxi. 9). This distinction is significant of the attitude of Moses, because the heathen “priestesses” were nothing but prostitutes. Similarly, he forbade groves, a common adjunct of heathen temples and a convenient cover for debauchery. Again, his purpose is shown by the severe penalties imposed on adultery (death) and on unchastity in a betrothed damsel (death by stoning), as contrasted with the mild prohibition of prostitution. So long as it did not touch the race or the religion, he tolerated it; and even this degree of disapproval was not maintained, for Jephthah was the son of a harlot[2] (Judg. xi. 1). There is abundant evidence in the Old Testament that prostitution prevailed extensively in Palestine, even in the earlier and more puritan days. The women were forbidden Jerusalem and places of worship; they infested the waysides, and there is some evidence of a distinctive dress or bearing, which was a marked feature of the trade among the Greeks and Romans. In the later period of aggrandisement that increase of licentious indulgence which Moses had foreseen took place, associated with infidelity. The people plunged into debauchery, the invariable sign of national decadence, which has always accompanied over-prosperity and security, and has always heralded national destruction. Before leaving the Jews, it may be noted as an interesting fact that the remarkable series of ordinances laid down by Moses in the interest of public health contains unmistakable recognition of venereal disease and its contagious character (Lev. xv.).

Passing on to the ancient Greeks, we find prostitution treated at Athens on a new principle. The regulations of Solon were designed to preserve public order and decency. He established houses of prostitution (dicteria), which were a state monopoly and confined to certain quarters. The dicteriades were forbidden the superior parts of the town, and were placed under various disabilities. They were compelled to wear a distinctive dress, and, so far from being connected with religion, they were not allowed to take part in religious services. These laws do not seem to have been carried out at all effectually, and were presently relaxed. After the Persian wars more stringent regulations were again introduced. The dicteriades were placed under police control, and were liable to prosecution for various offences, such as ruining youths, committing sacrilege and treason against the state. It is clear, however, that as time went on the Athenian authorities experienced the difficulties encountered by modern administrations in carrying out state regulation. There were grades of prostitution, socially though not legally recognized, and women of a superior order were too powerful for the law, which failed to maintain the ban against them. The Greek hetaerae, who were prostitutes, not “mistresses,” and the most gifted and brilliant members of their class known to history, wielded great and open influence. The test case of Phryne, in which the stern attitude previously maintained by the Areopagus broke down, established their triumph over the law, deprived virtuous women of their sole advantage, and opened the door to general laxity. In later times any one could set up a dicterion on payment of the tax. In other Greek cities extreme licence prevailed. At Corinth, which was famous for sensual practices, a temple, with a huge staff of common prostitutes for attendants, was established in honour of Aphrodite and for the accommodation of the sailors frequenting the port. The worship of this goddess became generally debased into an excuse for sexual excesses.

The Romans united the Jewish pride of race with the Greek regard for public decency, and in addition upheld a standard of austerity all their own. In early days female virtue was highly honoured and strenuously maintained among them, of which the institution of the vestal virgins was a visible sign. Their attitude towards prostitution differed, accordingly, from that of other ancient nations. Among them, alone, it was considered disgraceful to a man to frequent the company of prostitutes; and this traditional standard of social conduct, which markedly distinguished them from the Greeks, retained sufficient force down to the later days of the Republic to furnish Cicero with a weapon of rhetorical attack against his political opponents, whom he denounced as scortatores. Prostitution was more severely regulated by them than by any other ancient race. They introduced the system of police registration, which is the leading feature of administration in most European countries to-day. From the earliest days of the Republic prostitutes were required to register at the aediles' office, where licences were issued to them on payment of a tax. They were placed under stringent control, had to wear a distinctive dress, dye their hair or wear yellow wigs, and were subject to various civil disabilities; but the severest feature of the system was that, once registered, their names were never erased, and consequently remained for ever under an indelible stain. As in our times, registration became ineffective, and neither law nor tradition could check the demoralizing influence of ease and luxury when once external conquest left the Romans free to devote their energies to the pursuit of pleasure. An attempt was made, by the enactment of severer laws against prostitution, to stem the rising tide of immorality, which threatened to taint the best blood in Rome with the basest elements in the later days of the Republic. Citizens were prohibited from marrying the descendants or relatives of prostitutes, daughters of equestrians were forbidden to become prostitutes, and married women who did so were liable to penalties. More stringent regulations were also imposed on prostitutes themselves, in addition to the old disabilities and police system, which remained in force. If these laws had any effect at all, it was to promote the general prevalence of immorality, they certainly did not diminish prostitution. The profligacy of imperial Rome has never been surpassed for gross and obscene sensuality.

The greatest change introduced by Christianity with regard to prostitution was the adoption of a more charitable attitude towards these social and legal outcasts. The Roman state tax, which had descended to the emperors and had been further regulated under Caligula, was partly given up in the 4th century by Theodosius, on the representations of Florentius, a wealthy patrician, who offered to make good the loss of revenue out of his own pocket. It was fully and finally abolished by Anastasius I. in the next century, and the old registers were destroyed. Then some of the civil disabilities of prostitutes were removed by Justinian in the 6th century. Gibbon, who never gave credit for a good motive when a base one could be found, attributes Justinian's action solely to his desire to marry Theodora, whose life had been notorious; and no doubt she influenced him in the matter, but it is permissible to assume a good motive. Even Gibbon is constrained to admit her virtue after marriage, and to give her credit for “the most benevolent institution” of ]ustinian's reign, the rescue home for fallen women in Constantinople, which was at any rate disinterested. Though it did not succeed, it marks a turning-point in the treatment of a class which had never met with public sympathy before. At the same time procuration and connivance were severely punished, which is in keeping with the Christian attitude. The early Christian Church laid great stress on chastity, which probably suggested to its Roman persecutors the horrible punishment of forcibly prostituting Christian maidens. Such malignity enhanced the glory of martyrdom without shaking the constancy of its victims; and the triumph of purity in an age of unbounded licence was conspicuously recognized by Alaric, the Gothic conqueror, who gave strict orders in the sack of Rome that the virtue of Christian women was to be respected. The church, however, was not severe upon prostitutes, to whom the altar was open upon repentance, and some of the fathers explicit recognized their trade as a necessary evil. Among them was St Augustine, a man of the world, who saw that its suppression would stimulate more destructive forms of immorality. Gradually charity degenerated into patronage. Rome, conquered spiritually by Christianity and materially by the northern barbarians, sapped the virtue of both. Before the middle ages the institutions and ministers of the Church became a by-word for vice. Charlemagne made an effort to suppress the prevailing disorder, but his private life was licentious, and his capitularies, which ordained the scourging of prostitutes and panders, were not inspired by any regard for morality. A period of reform followed. The rise of chivalry, with its lofty idealization of women, and the wave of Christian fervour connected with the Crusades, inspired a vigorous and high-minded campaign against an all-prevalent evil. The Church became exceedingly active in prevention and rescue work, and was assisted by a devout and zealous laity. Rescue missions were organized, convents were founded everywhere for the reception of penitents, and dowries were subscribed to procure them husbands. Fulke de Neuilly was a conspicuous figure in this work. He held missions, preached, and collected large sums for marriage dowries. Pope Innocent III. (1198-1216) pronounced it a praiseworthy act to marry a prostitute; and Gregory IX., a few years later, wrote to Germany that brothel-keepers were not to prevent prostitutes from attending missions, and that clergy and laity who drew profit from prostitution were banned. “Urge bachelors,” he wrote, “to marry repentant girls, or induce the latter to enter the cloister.” In spite of such efforts, and of occasional spasms of severity by individual rulers, prostitution flourished everywhere throughout the middle ages. It was not merely tolerated, but licensed and regulated by law. In London there was a row of “bordells” (brothels) or “stews” in the Borough near London Bridge. They were originally licensed by the bishops of Winchester, according to John Noorthouck, and subsequently sanctioned by parliament. Stow quotes the regulations enacted in the year 1161, during the reign of Henry II. These were rather protective than repressive, as they settled the rent which women had to pay for the rooms, and forbade their compulsory detention. The act was afterwards confirmed in the reigns of Edward III. and Richard II. In 1383 the bordells belonged to William Walworth, lord mayor of London, who farmed them out, probably on behalf of the Corporation, according to analogy in other parts of Europe. They were closed in 1506, but reopened until 1546, when they were abolished by Henry VIII. In London we get the earliest known regulations directed against the spread of venereal disease. The act of 1161 forbade the bordell-keepers to have women suffering from the “perilous infirmity of burning”; and by an order of 1430 they were forbidden to admit men suffering from an infirmitas nefanda. Probably it was by virtue of this order that in 1439 two keepers were condemned to eleven days' imprisonment and banishment from the city. In 1473, again, it is recorded that bawds and strumpets were severely handled by Lord Mayor Hampton.

Elsewhere in Europe much the same state of things prevailed during the same period. Prostitution was both protected and regulated, and in many places it constituted a source of public revenue. In France prostitutes were distinguished by a badge, and forbidden to wear jewels and fine stuffs and to frequent certain parts of the town. Public brothels on a large scale were established at Toulouse, Avignon and Montpellier. At Toulouse the profits were shared between the city and the university; at Montpellier and Avignon the trade was a municipal monopoly, and farmed out to individuals; at Avignon, where the establishment was kept up during the whole period of the popes' residence, the inmates were subjected to a weekly examination. In 1254 Louis IX. issued an edict exiling prostitutes and brothel keepers; but it was repealed two years later, though in this and the succeeding century procuration was punished with extreme severity. In some parts of France prostitutes paid a tax to the seigneur. In Germany, according to Fiducin, the public protection of Lust-Dirnen was a regular thing in all the large towns during the middle ages. “Frauenhäuser,” similar to those in London and in France, existed in many places. They are mentioned in Hamburg in 1292; and from later records it appears that they were built by the corporation, which farmed them. So also in Ulm, where special regulations were issued in 1430. We find them existing at Regensburg in 1306, at Zürich in 1314, at Basel in 1356 and Vienna in 1384. According to Henne-am-Rhyn, admission to these houses was forbidden to married men, clergy and Jews, and on Sundays and saints' days they were closed. The laws of the emperor Frederick II. in the 13th century contain some curious provisions. Any one convicted of a criminal assault on a prostitute against her will was liable to be beheaded; if she made a false accusation she was subject to the same penalty. Any one not going to the assistance of a woman calling for help was liable to a heavy fine. In these ordinances the influence of chivalry may be detected. At the same time prostitutes were forbidden to live among respectable women or go to the baths with them. Hospitality to important guests included placing the public Frauenhäuser at their disposal. So King (afterwards Emperor) Sigismund was treated at Bern in 1414 and at Ulm in 1434, so much to his satisfaction that he publicly complimented his hosts on it. Besides the municipal Frauenhäuser, there were “Winkelhäuser,” which were regarded as irregular competitors. In 1492 the licensed women of Nuremberg complained to the mayor of this unfair competition, and in 1508 they received his permission to storm the obnoxious Winkelhaus, which they actually did. In Italy and Spain the system appears to have been very much the same. At Bologna prostitutes had to wear a distinctive dress, in Venice they were forbidden to frequent the wine-shop, and in Ravenna they were compelled to leave a neighbourhood on the complaint of other residents. At Naples a court of prostitutes was established, having jurisdiction over everything connected with prostitution. It led to great abuses, was reformed in 1589, and abolished about a century later.

Such was the state of things in the middle ages. In the 15th and 16th centuries a great change took place. It was due to two very different causes: (1) fear of disease; (2) the Reformation. With regard to the first, there can be little doubt that both the slighter and graver forms of venereal disease existed in very remote times, but until the 15th century they attracted comparatively little attention. The constitutional character of syphilis was certainly not understood—which is by no means surprising, since its pathology has only recently been elucidated (see Veneral Diseases)—but one would still have expected to find more notice taken of it by historical, moral and medical writers in classical and medieval times. Nor is it possible to explain their reticence by prudery, in view of the unbounded literary licence permitted in those ages. One can only conclude that the evil was less widely spread or less virulent than it afterwards became. At the end of the 15th century it attracted so much notice that it was supposed to have originated then de novo, or to have been brought from the West Indies by Columbus—both untenable hypotheses; and, as usual, each country accused some other of bringing the contagion within its borders. To speculate on the cause of this increased prevalence would be idle; it is enough to note the fact and its consequences. It was immediately followed by the Reformation, and the two together led to a general campaign against the system of licensed prostitution. The last Frauenhaus was closed in Ulm in 1531, in Basel in 1534 and in Nuremberg in 1562. In London, as already noted, the bordells were abolished in 1546. In Paris an ordinance was issued in 1560 prohibiting these establishments, and later all prostitutes were required to leave the city within twenty-four hours. These instances will suffice to show the general character of the movement. Nor were municipal brothels ever tolerated again. It is observed by Henne-am-Rhyn—no friend of toleration—that their suppression was followed by the appearance of the crime of infanticide, by the establishment of hospitals for foundlings and for syphilis. This suggests an indictment against humanity which is hardly justified by the facts. Infanticide was no new thing, and foundling hospitals date from the beginning of the 13th century. Their marked increase and the establishment of syphilitic hospitals came a century later than the Reformation campaign against the Frauenhäuser. The suppression of the latter did not affect the prevalence of prostitution. In the 17th century another spasm of severity occurred. In 1635 an edict was issued in Paris condemning men concerned in the traffic to the galleys for life; women and girls to be whipped, shaved and banished for life, without formal trial. These ordinances were modified by Louis XIV. in 1684. The Puritan enactments in England were equally savage. Fornication was punishable by three months' imprisonment, followed by bail for good behaviour. Bawds were condemned to be whipped, pilloried, branded and imprisoned for three years; the punishment for a second offence was death. In Hamburg all brothels were pulled down and the women expelled from the town. If these measures had any effect, it was speedily lost in a greater reaction; but they have some historical interest, as the present system was gradually evolved from them.

It would be tedious and unprofitable to follow all the steps, the shifts and turns of policy, adopted in different countries during the 18th century for the suppression or control of an incurable evil. They involve no new principle, and merely represent phases in the evolution of the more settled and more systematic procedure in force at the present time. Its chief feature, as compared with the past, is the establishment of an organized police force, to which the control of prostitution is entrusted, coupled with a general determination to put the subject out of sight and ignore it as far as possible. The procedure on the continent of Europe is virtually a return to the old Roman system of registration and supervision, except that there is no state tax, and names can be removed from the register. The objects are the same, namely, public order and decency, with one important addition, which has given rise to much controversy. This is the protection of health. From what has gone before, the reader will have gathered that it is not, as frequently supposed, a new thing. Already in the middle ages the question occupied the attention of parliament in England, and a weekly examination of public women by the barber (the surgeon of that time) was instituted at Avignon. The practice was adopted in Spain from about 1500, and later in many other places. But the abolition of licensed brothels, and the consequent growth of private prostitution, rendered it a dead letter. To meet the difficulty, registration was devised. It was first suggested in France in 1765, but was not adopted until 1778. The present regulations in France are based on the ordinances of that year and of 1780 which in their turn were borrowed from those of the 16th and 17th centuries, previously mentioned. The theory of the modern attitude towards prostitution is clearly laid down by successive ordinances issued in Berlin. Those of 1700 stated that “this traffic is not permitted, but merely tolerated”; the more precise ones of 1792 pronounced the toleration of prostitution a necessary evil, “to avoid greater disorders which are not to be restrained by any law or authority, and which take their rise from an inextinguishable natural appetite”; and the regulations of 1850 and 1876 are headed: “Polizeiliche Vorschriften zur Sicherung der Gesundheit, der öffentlichen Ordnung und des öffentlichen Anstandes.” This embraces the whole theory of present administration, and if Gesundheit be omitted, is not less applicable to the United Kingdom than to the continent. The last attempt to suppress prostitution in Germany is worth noting, as it occurred so late as 1845. Registration was stopped and the tolerated houses were closed in Berlin, Halle and Cologne. The attempt was a complete failure, and it was abandoned in 1851 in favour of the previous system.

We proceed to state the present condition of the law in France, Germany, Austria and the United Kingdom.

France.—The French criminal law takes no cognizance of prostitution. The subject was omitted from the penal code Present laws. drawn up by the first Republic, and was never restored, although many attempts were made to introduce legislation, on account of the great disorder which arose. Procuration is to a certain extent a criminal offence. Paragraph 334 of the code forbids the exciting, favouring or facilitating habitually the debauch of girls or boys under twenty-one years of age; the penalty is imprisonment for six months to two years, and a fine of 50 to 500 francs. If the offence is committed by parents, guardians or other persons in a tutelary position, imprisonment is from two to five years, and the fine 300 to 1000 francs. The regulation of prostitution rests on the law of 1790, which entrusted the preservation of public tranquillity to the administrative authorities; these are in Paris the prefect of police, and in other communes the mayor. The Parisian regulations have been built up by the decrees of successive prefects. They are based on those of 1778, which fell into abeyance at the Revolution, were reintroduced in 1816, amended in 1823, and made more complete in 1830 and 1841. Those adopted in other towns do not differ in any essential particular. The more important points are: (1) registration of prostitutes, which is either voluntary, or compulsory after repeated arrest; (2) recognized brothels, which are of two classes—maisons de tolérance (residential) and maisons de passe (houses of call); (3) medical examination, which is weekly at the maisons de tolérance, while other registered prostitutes must present themselves fortnightly at the dispensary; (4) hospital treatment of those found diseased; (5) rules with regard to solicitation, the frequenting of public places, &c. A small fee is paid for examination. The penalty for infraction of regulations is imprisonment; offences are divided into two classes: (1) slight, (2) grave, and the term of imprisonment varies accordingly from fourteen days to one year. Names may be erased from the register on the following grounds: (1) marriage, (2) organic disease such as to render the calling impossible, (3) return to relations and proof of good behaviour. The whole procedure appears to rest on grounds of doubtful legality. Prostitution never comes before the courts which alone can try offences and pronounce sentence. The police have no power to do so, yet they both try and sentence these women. That is to say, the whole system depends on their doing, by some verbal quibble, what they have no power to do. The question came before the court of Reims in 1876, in the case of two women who refused to submit to medical examination, and the judge decided in their favour. He was dismissed in consequence, which does not make the situation more satisfactory.

Germany.—The German law is more explicit and more logical. Prostitution is not forbidden, but by paragraph 361 of the Imperial Code women are liable to arrest for practising prostitution without being under police control, and for contravening regulations after they have been placed under such control. This brings the traffic completely under the police, and gives legal sanction to their regulations. These vary to some extent in different places, but their general tenor is the same. They include compulsory registration and weekly or semi-weekly medical examination, together with rules, for the most part extremely strict, with regard to public demeanour and conditions of life. In Hamburg, for instance, prostitutes are confined to certain streets or houses, forbidden to share lodgings with persons not registered, to have female servants under twenty-five years of age, to keep children after school age, to admit young men under twenty, to make a noise or quarrel, to attract attention in any way, to go out between two and five in summer, to frequent certain parts of the town, or public balls, or superior seats in the theatre, to remain out after 11 p.m. (Regulations of 1886). On proved reclamation, supervision may be relaxed or names struck off the register. Generally, the women are compelled to contribute a fixed sum to a sick fund, for defraying the cost of medical examination; and in some places also to a journey fund, which is applied to sending strangers to their homes. Brothels are absolutely illegal throughout Germany. Paragraph 180 of the Imperial Code (1876) made Kuppelei a penal offence. Kuppelei is defined as promoting prostitution, either by procuration or by providing facilities of any kind. There is (1) ordinary Kuppelei, or simply assisting prostitution for gain, and (2) aggravated Kuppelei, which includes false pretences and procuration by parents, guardians, teachers, &c. The penalty for the former is a short term of imprisonment and police supervision; for the latter, penal servitude up to five years. It is obvious that if this law were strictly enforced, it would amount to suppression, for every householder or house owner who harboured a prostitute would be liable to prosecution. Its actual interpretation, however, is very elastic. A law passed in Prussia in 1900 has for its object the reclamation of the young. Girls under eighteen may be placed under control until they are twenty-one.

Austria.—The Austrian law goes farther than the German, and is still more inconsistent with the existing practice. By paragraph 5 of the Criminal Act of 1885 prostitution is actually forbidden, but permission is given to the police to tolerate it under conditions, and to prescribe regulations according to circumstances. Power to punish is also given to the police. Only certain cases of prostitution are liable to criminal prosecution, namely, when continued after police punishment, with disregard of regulations, when practised by persons suffering from venereal disease, and when accompanied by public scandal. Seduction of the young is punishable by imprisonment, eight days to six months; living on the prostitution of others, by eight days to three months. Kuppelei is a penal offence. Simple Kuppelei include (1) harbouring prostitutes for the purpose of pursuing their trade, (2) procuration, (3) having any connexion with the traffic—penalty, three to six months' imprisonment; qualified Kuppelei is (1) procuration of innocent persons (equivalent to use of false pretences), (2) procuration by parents, guardians, &c.—penalty, one to five years. The police regulations and procedure are similar to those in Germany, but less strict. In all these countries a special service of police is employed.

Great Britain.—The English law differs markedly from the foregoing. It regards prostitution solely as a public nuisance, and dates from the middle of the 18th century. The principal act (25 Geo. II.) was passed in 1755, making perpetual a previous act of 1752. It is entitled “An act for encouraging prosecutions against persons keeping bawdy-houses,” and provides that two ratepayers, on giving notice to a constable, may go with him before a justice and obtain an order for proceeding against the persons in question. A further act was passed in 1763, fixing the penalties, and a third in 1818 (58 Geo. III.), enabling the overseers of the parish to take the requisite proceedings. Thus machinery was provided for dealing with brothels, but it was left to the public to put it in motion. The Vagrancy Act of 1824 enables the police to proceed against “common prostitutes for behaving in a riotous or indecent manner,” and also forbids indecent literature. This was strengthened by a special act (1839) applying to London only, for the prevention of “loitering for the purpose of prostitution or solicitation, to the annoyance of passengers or inhabitants.” Other large towns have since obtained private acts for the same purpose. The penalties are fines and short terms of imprisonment. In 1847 an act was passed making it an offence for publicans to allow “common prostitutes to assemble and continue” in licensed premises. The Licensing Act of 1872 contains a provision to the same effect. The previous law for dealing with brothels by indictment was strengthened by the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885, which renders “any person who keeps, manages or acts or assists in the management of a brothel,” and any owner or occupier who knowingly permits the same, liable to summary conviction under the Summary Jurisdiction Act; penalties for first offence, a fine up to £20, or imprisonment up to three months, increased for second offence to £40 and four months respectively. The same act also strengthened the law, which had previously been very weak, for the protection of the young and the prevention of procuration. It makes the procuration or attempted procuration of any girl or woman “to become a common prostitute” a misdemeanour punishable by two years imprisonment, and places the following offences on the same footing: procuring defilement by threats, fraud or drugs; compulsory detention for defilement or in a brothel; procuring the defilement of girls under twenty-one; inducing them to leave the kingdom or to leave home and go to a brothel, with intent. The defilement of girls under sixteen and over thirteen years of age is also a misdemeanour, and subject to the same penalty; the defilement of girls under thirteen is felony, punishable by penal servitude from five years up to a life-sentence. Owners or occupiers of premises conniving at these offences are equally liable.

No account of the law in the United Kingdom would be complete without some reference to the partial adoption of the system of examination as employed elsewhere in Europe in 1864-1883. In 1864 a Contagious Diseases Prevention Act was passed providing for the compulsory medical examination of prostitutes, and detention in hospital of those found diseased, in the following garrison towns: Portsmouth, Plymouth, Woolwich, Chatham, Sheerness, Aldershot, Colchester, Shorncliffe, the Curragh, Cork and Queenstown. The legal machinery was a justices' order granted on sworn information that the woman named was a common prostitute. “The Act having proved very inefficacious” (judge advocate-general in House of Commons, April 1883), it was amended in 1866 and extended to Windsor. Two years later an important memorial was drawn up by the royal colleges of physicians and surgeons in favour of the acts and their extended application, and in 1869 they were further amended and applied to Canterbury, Dover, Gravesend, Maidstone, Southampton and Winchester—eighteen places in all. A popular agitation, based on humanitarian and moral grounds, and continuously carried on against the measure led to the appointment of a royal commission in 1871 and a select committee in 1879. The direct evidence was strongly in favour of the acts, alike with regard to the diminution of disease among the troops in the protected towns, the absence of complaints and the good effect on public order, to which clergymen and other residents testified. The majority of the committee reported accordingly after three years' inquiry; but in 1883 the House of Commons passed a resolution, by 182 to 110 votes, condemning the compulsory examination of women. As this would have entailed refusal to vote the money required to carry on the system, it was immediately dropped, and the officers of the metropolitan police to whom its execution had been entrusted were recalled. In 1886 the C. D. Acts were repealed.

In India the system was introduced for military cantonments in 1865, partially suspended at the end of 1884, and stopped in 1888 on account of the action of the House of Commons. A new Cantonment Act was applied in 1889, and an amending act in 1893, by which the compulsory or periodical examination of women was prohibited. In consequence of the enormous increase of syphilis which followed, a new order was made in 1897, which gave power (1) to call on persons suffering from a contagious disease to attend the dispensary, (2) to remove brothels, (3) to prevent the residence or loitering of prostitutes near cantonments.

The foregoing summary of existing laws and regulations sufficiently indicates the present methods of dealing with prostitution. All Western nations broadly follow one or other of the systems described, though the local regulations may vary somewhat in minor details.

The French system of recognized houses, with registration, police des mœurs, &c., obtains in Belgium, Russia, Hungary, Conditions actually existing. Spain and Portugal; Italy adopted it in 1855, but abandoned it in 1888 for a modified system; in the Dutch towns maisons de tolérance are permitted with or without a service des mœurs; Norway has abandoned registration, except in Bergen and Trondhjem, but otherwise Scandinavia rather follows the German principle of non-recognition, with more or less vigorous policing; of the Swiss cantons, some have the French, others the German system; while the United States and the British self-governing colonies incline more to the English model of comparative freedom, without a moral police or one possessing arbitrary executive powers independent of the courts of justice. All the systems have their defects; all fail to fulfil their purpose in the great cities. The most modest aim is to preserve public order and propriety. This object is better secured on the continent of Europe than elsewhere, but at the cost of submitting to an arbitrary police rule, intolerable to a free people. There appears to be less prostitution, both visible and actual, in Italy than in other countries. Under the English system the streets can be, and sometimes are, kept orderly in provincial towns by an energetic police; but in London the mass of prostitution is so great that the police seem totally unable to cope with it. Important thoroughfares and centres are frequented by large numbers of prostitutes in broad daylight, and choked by them at night. The law with regard to loitering is a dead letter, for these women do nothing but loiter. Flagrant solicitation is to some, extent repressed, but for the most part the police content themselves with preventing positive tumults, and do not always succeed in that. On the other hand the less obvious but more pernicious nuisance of the brothel prevails to a far greater extent on the continent of Europe. Under the French system it is, of course, encouraged, in preference to “surreptitious” prostitution; but under the German it is forbidden. The facts here afford a proof of the impotence of the law no less striking than the condition of the London streets. By the German and Austrian criminal law, quoted above, brothels are prohibited, yet they abound in both countries. In Austria they are recognized, and perhaps the logic of the law is saved by permissive police clauses. In Germany it is not so. Paragraph 180 absolutely disposes of the question, and in Berlin it is acted on. Elsewhere brothels not only existed, but were recognized by authority for years after the passing of the laws against Kuppelei. It was not until 1886 and 1889 that they were nominally abolished in Hamburg and Saxony respectively. Yet they still exist in most or all of the large towns, with the knowledge and consent, if not with the permission, of the police. In some they are even authorized. Berlin, which is more severely policed than any town outside Russia, is an exception. There brothels are not openly winked at, but the police have to deal annually with 16,000 or 17,000 charges of Kuppelei, and the number remains very constant, from which it may be inferred that the law, even when logically and energetically carried out, is quite ineffective. The European system of registration is still more delusive. In Russia, where the authorities have the means of knowing the movements and habits of every individual, it may be possible to compel the registration of the majority of prostitutes, but in other countries it is impossible. The police everywhere complain of the amount of “clandestine” prostitution, which they cannot control, and which tends always to increase, under the system, while the roll of inscribed women dwindles. The numbers alone are sufficient to prove the failure of the procedure; for instance, 311 and 270 in Dresden and Munich respectively (Zehnder 1891), both capital towns and cities of pleasure containing over 300,000 inhabitants. Cologne, with only half the population, had double the number on the register at the same time. In Paris, which may be called the headquarters of Western vice, the disproportion between registered and clandestine prostitution has reduced the whole system to an absurdity. The number of women on the roll is not a tenth of the estimated number of prostitutes; nor is Berlin, with about 3000 on the register, any better off. In Bordeaux, Brest, Lille, Lyons and Marseilles the same process is going on (Reuss). It follows that the protection of health, which is the object aimed at by registration, is delusive in an equal degree. There are no means of ascertaining the amount of venereal disease existing in any town or country, except in Norway, and consequently, no data for comparing one period or one place with another; but we know that all forms of such disease are still very prevalent in all large European towns, in spite of the system. The only exact figures available are the military returns, which are of some value. It is in garrison towns of moderate size that compulsory registration is likely to be most efficiently carried out and to produce the most decided results, because the women with whom soldiers consort are by their character and habits least able to elude the vigilance of the police. The following table gives the proportion of admissions to hospital from all forms of venereal disease in the German, French, Austrian and British forces for twenty years from 1876. It may be added that the proportion in the Russian army is almost identical with the French, while the Italian figures are slightly higher than the Austrian. It is therefore unnecessary to give them:—

Admissions per 1000 in European Armies.

 Year.   German.   French.   Austrian.  British
 (Home). 
British
 (India). 






1876 28.8 57.0 65.8 146.5 203.5
1877 30.0 57.8 66.9 153.2 224.4
1878 36.0 59.7 75.4 175.5 291.6
1879 38.5 63.7 81.4 179.5 253.3
1880 34.9 65.8 75.7 245.9 249.0
1881 39.2 60.6 79.0 245.5 259.6
1882 41.0 62.0 73.7 246.0 265.5
1883 38.2 58.9 73.3 260.0 271.3
1884 34.5 52.1 73.5 270.7 293.5
1885 32.6 50.7 69.0 275.4 342.6
1886 29.7 49.6 65.8 267.1 385.8
1887 28.6 51.6 64.4 252.9 361.4
1888 26.3 46.7 65.4 224.5 372.2
1889 26.7 45.8 65.3 212.1 481.5
1890 26.7 43.8 65.4 212.4 503.6
1891 27.2 43.7 63.7 197.4 400.7
1892 27.9 44.0 61.6 201.2 409.9
1893 42.8 64.5 194.6 466.0
1894 40.9 64.8 182.4 511.4
1895 173.8 522.3

The most striking thing in this table is the enormous difference between the continental and the British figures. To make the comparison more complete, we will add the following, which gives the average admissions per 1000 for the three years 1890-1892:—

 German.   French.   Russian.   Austrian.   Italian.   U.S.A.  British
 (Home). 
British
 (India). 
Dutch
 (Indies). 









27.2 43.6 43.0 63.5 71.3 77.4 203.6 438.0 455.6

It is clear at once that troops in the East stand upon an entirely different footing from those in the West, the Dutch figures being even higher than the British; we may therefore put them aside for the moment. Comparing the rest, we notice that not only are the British figures enormously higher than the other European, but the latter also show very large discrepancies; and since all the foreign troops are under the same protective system, we may conclude that other factors must be taken into account. The discipline maintained, the character of the soldiers themselves, and the procedure with regard to admission into hospital, no doubt all affect the returns. Further, a sort of epidemic rise and fall is to be noted. All the returns given in the first table show a simultaneous rise for several years, beginning with 1876; and having reached a maximum, each shows a progressive fall, likewise lasting over several years. This points to another disturbing factor. It is convincingly shown by the figures for the protected districts in the United Kingdom before, during, and after the period of protection. In 1864—that is, just before the first Contagious Diseases Act came into operation—the proportional figure was 260; ten years later it had fallen to 126; but in 1883 it had risen again to 234, in spite of the protection. Then, protection being removed, it rose to 276, but afterwards fell again progressively to 191 in 1895, without any protection. It is therefore evident that in interpreting the statistics allowance must be made for large fluctuations due to causes quite independent of the protective system. The margin of difference, however, between the British and European returns is so large that, when all allowances have been made, it is impossible to doubt that a considerable degree of real protection is afforded to soldiers by the system. This conclusion is confirmed by the comparatively high returns for the army of the United States, and still more by the Indian statistics. They rose gradually, it is true, during the cantonment system, but when that was dropped disease increased with shocking rapidity. Between 1887 and 1895 the admissions for primary syphilis rose from 75.5 to 174.1 per 1000, and those for secondary syphilis from 29.4 to 84.9.

The broad conclusion is that under special conditions, and when rigidly enforced, registration and medical examination do to a considerable extent fulfil the purpose of protecting health. Their failure to do so among the population at large and under the ordinary conditions of life is not surprising when we regard the amount of venereal disease which still occurs even among soldiers protected by the most rigorous measures and under the most favourable conditions.

A general view of the whole subject suggests no pleasant or hopeful conclusions. Prostitution appears to be inseparable from human society in large communities. In different countries and ages it has in turn been patronized and prohibited, ignored and recognized, tolerated and condemned, regulated and let alone, flaunted and concealed. Christianity, the greatest moral force in the history of mankind, has repeatedly and systematically attacked it with a scourge in one hand and balm in the other; but the effect has been trifling or transient. Nor have all the social and administrative resources of modern civilization availed to exercise an effective control. The elementary laws on which prostitution rests are stronger than the artificial codes imposed by moral teaching, conventional standards or legislatures; and attempts at repression only lead to a change of form, not of substance. It survives all treatment; and though it may coexist with national vigour, its extravagant development is one of the signs of a rotten and decaying civilization. In Western communities the traffic is not carried on so openly as in the East, nor is it exploited for purposes of public revenue, as among the ancients and in the middle ages; a veil of reticence and secrecy, for the most part of a transparently flimsy character, is thrown over it; but whatever is gained in public decency is counterbalanced by other attendant evils. Two, in particular, are fostered by the policing of prostitutes. One is the system of blackmail levied by the executive. The scandal has been most notorious in the United States, but it exists everywhere, and is a constant source of profound corruption. The other is the growth of the most degraded class that ever disgraced the name of man—the creatures who live upon the earnings of individual prostitutes, with whom they cohabit. They are called souteneurs in France, louis in Germany, cadets in New York, and by various slang names in Great Britain. They are all criminals. They flourish chiefly on the continent of Europe, where they exist in large and ever-increasing numbers; but they find their way everywhere, and are a dangerous menace to society. They are not altogether new. The Elizabethan drama is full of references to men who took toll of prostitutes in return for protective services in the old days of persecution; but they have been greatly fostered by the modern system, under which women find it necessary or convenient to have the cover of a man, who can pass for a husband and baffle the police. Thus the law is evaded on the one hand by the corruption of those who administer it, and on the other by the appearance of a class of criminal idlers more degraded than any other—both greater evils than the traffic which the law is intended, but fails, to control. There are no data for comparing the extent of profligacy at present existing in Western communities with that in other countries or in former times, but the unmentionable facts which come constantly to the knowledge of the police des mœurs, and less frequently to the ears of doctors, and lawyers, leave no doubt that in intensity of vice the great centres of modern civilization have nothing whatever to learn from Corinth, imperial Rome, ancient Egypt or modern China. The classical obscenities dug up and relegated to museums are far surpassed by the photographic abominations prepared to-day in Paris or in Amsterdam. The gross perversion and abuse of the sexual instinct implied by these excesses may be a passing phase, but it is a phase which has always marked the decadence of great nations. It is undoubtedly accompanied by a general tendency towards increase of the volume of prostitution. Improvement in the conditions of life among the poor ought to tend in the opposite direction, by removing one of the most potent causes of the traffic, but it is more than counterbalanced by the rising standard of luxury and comfort which accompanies it, by the aggregation of the people more and more into great cities, and by their craving for amusement. The growth of prostitution has already left its marks on the marriage- and birthrates of the most highly civilized Western communities.

In 1900 the Prussian Government made an attempt, with the co-operation of the medical corporations, to ascertain the amount of venereal disease prevalent in the kingdom. Circular questions were addressed to all members of the medical profession requesting them to report the number of patients suffering from those disorders in their practice at the date of the 1st of April. Answers were sent in by 63%, and the aggregate number of patients was 40,902. From this datum it is calculated that the number of persons attacked in the course of a year is at the very least 500,000 in Prussia alone (vide Hygienische Rundschau, April 1902).

Authorities.—W. F. Amos, State Regulation of Vice; Committee of Fifteen (New York), The Social Evil (1902); Conférence Internationale (Brussels, 1899), Comptes rendus; Fiaux, La Prostitution en Belgique; Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; Henne-am-Rhyn, Die Gebrechen der Sitten-polizei; Parent-Duchâtelet, De la prostitution dans la ville de Paris; Reuss, La Prostitution; Von Raumer, Geschichte der Hohenstaufen; Sanger, History of Prostitution; Schlegel, Histoire de la prostitution en Chine; Schrank, Die Prostitution in Wien; Stürmer, Die Prostitution in Russland; Tarnowsky, La Prostitution; Zehnder, Die Gefahren der Prostitution. (A. Sl.)


  1. The number of those who do so is considerable. In Copenhagen, from 1871 to 1896, 33% of the registered prostitutes were removed from the register by marriage and by returning to their friends. Many women resort to prostitution occasionally in alternation with work.
  2. Neither “harlot” nor “whore” is the Anglo-Saxon for a prostitute, for which the word is miltestre (so in Matt. xxi. 31). “Whore” came into English from Scandinavian sources. It was not spelled with the initial w till the beginning of the 16th century. The earlier forms are hore or hoore. The word appears in many Teutonic languages, Dan. hore, Swed. hora, Du. hoer, Ger. Hure. The ultimate origin has been taken to be the root meaning “to love,” seen in Lat. carus, dear. In its earliest usages the word means “adulterer” or “ adulteress.” It is frequent in the early version of the Bible in the sense of prostitute. “Harlot,” possibly, as the New English Dictionary points out, as a less offensive word, is frequent in 16th century versions.

    The word “harlot” first appears without its present application and usually of men, in the sense of rogue, vagabond, sometimes even with no evil significance at all, much as we use “fellow.” Thus in the prologue to the Canterbury Tales, 647, where the “Somonour” is called a “gentil harlot and a kynde.” The word came from Fr. arlot, masculine, arlotte, feminine. Du Cange (Glossarium) defines med. Lat. arlotus, as Helluo, ventri deditus, and gives the Fr. arlot as an equivalent, with the meaning homo nihili, fripon, coquin. The Catholicon anglicum (1483) defines “harlott” as joculator, joculatrix, histrio, histrix, connecting the word with the wandering players, actors, jugglers, of the day. The ultimate origin of the Romanic word is unknown. Skeat connects it with the Teutonic word, which appears in Ger. kerl, Eng. “churl,” which means “man,” “fellow.” Like “bigot” (q.v.), the word has been fancifully derived from the name of a person, viz. Arletta or Arlotta, the mother of William the Conqueror (William Lambarde, 1536-1601, Perambulation of Kent, pub. 1576).