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    Prostitution: Historical Approaches to Regulation

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    Historically, although prostitution has been viewed as a threat to the moral order and a danger to public health, the state has tended to legislate for the regulation of prostitution, rather than introducing measures focussed on its elimination.

    Even early Christian societies did not seek to eliminate prostitution, with the Church fathers justifying this stance by asserting that “Sewers are necessary to guarantee the wholesomeness of palaces. ” (quoted by de Beauvoir, 1974, 618). St Augustine was adamant that prostitution should be recognised as a necessary social evil, arguing, Suppress prostitution and capricious lusts will overthrow society. (cited in Roberts, 1992, 61).

    His stance was predicated on a belief in men’s sexual appetites necessitating access to sexual outlets outside of marriage. In order to prevent them committing adultery and threatening their marriages, society should facilitate men’s access to prostitutes. It follows from St Augustine’s argument that two separate classes of women were required – good, virtuous, sexually faithful wives to service men’s procreative needs within marriage, and prostitutes who would cater to their desires and pleasures outside of marriage. Such thinking views prostitution as a necessary social evil, and reinforces the madonna/whore dichotomy.

    Given the fact that men’s demand for prostitution services has not abated through the ages, the historic response has been to continue to seek its regulation and control rather than its eradication. For instance, in medieval England and Europe the preferred way of regulating prostitution was to restrict prostitutes to working in certain districts and/or requiring that they dress in particular, identifiable, styles.

    Thus in Paris, prostitutes were confined to working in brothels in particular areas of the town and were required to wear armbands, dye their hair, ;or in other ways distinguish themselves from respectable society matrons; (Bullough and Bullough, 1987, 125). Women who violated such codes of behaviour could find themselves expelled from that district, literally being run out of town.

    Confining the sex industry to specifically designated areas was also seen as economically advantageous in that it enabled municipal councils to share in the profits (Roberts, 1992, 90). By the 17th century the practice of visiting prostitutes was so widespread that guidebooks to brothels were being produced and men could claim visits to prostitutes on their tax returns (Philip, 1991, 22).

    Prostitution continued to flourish so that by the 1860s Henry Mayhew estimated there to be over 80,000 women working as prostitutes in London – how many men were their clients we have no idea. It is clearly evident that the dominant state response to prostitution has been to seek its regulation and control rather than its elimination. A study of the international sex industry today, however, reveals that the ways of achieving such regulation differ markedly, both between and within nations.

    Thus in the United States areas of minimal regulation exist alongside states with highly interventionist policies. Significant differences also exist in how European governments have sought to control prostitution. The measures adopted range from the legalised red-light districts of Hamburg to the tolerance of window prostitution in Amsterdam and the arresting of male clients in Sweden.

    Closer to home, across the Tasman in Australia there are distinct differences in the ways state governments view and attempt to regulate the sex industry. These will be examined later in this section.

    Contemporary approaches to regulation

    There are four principal approaches that states have adopted internationally with regard to the regulation of prostitution. Each of these is briefly presented below. CriminalisationThis approach makes prostitution an illegal offence for both the client and sex worker, and in so doing seeks to reduce or eliminate the sex industry.

    This option appeals to many who are opposed to prostitution on moral, religious or feminist political grounds, but has seldom been seriously implemented because such laws tend simply to drive prostitution underground, producing undesirable health and safety consequences.

    Criminalization of the clients

    Some countries have sought to remove the double standard by introducing legislation that penalises the clients rather than the sex workers. The proponents of this measure often hope that by targeting the demand side of the sex industry, they may reduce or eliminate it altogether. Legalisation A legalized approach to the sex industry makes prostitution legal under certain, state-specified conditions. Typically this would involve establishing .

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    Prostitution: Historical Approaches to Regulation. (2019, Feb 15). Retrieved from

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