A Brief History of Prostitution

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Prostitution is supposedly the oldest profession in the world. The ways in which society has viewed prostitution has changed over history. The 18th century BCE Code of Hammurabi included laws protecting the inheritance of prostitutes because they typically had no male figure, such as a father or older brother, looking out for them. In ancient Greece and Rome prostitution was legal and at times even state-sanctioned. There were three types of prostitutes. The first two, sex slaves called pornai in Greek and freeborn prostitutes who worked the streets, could be either male or female. The third class included only females. These educated prostitute-entertainers, called hetaera in Greek, were some of the wealthiest women in ancient Greece. State-sanction brothels included mainly inexpensive pornai, so that all men, despite income level, could afford to have sex.

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As Christianity came about prostitution began to be seen as impure. In the 590s CE, Spain had laws punishing women who sold sexual favors by whipping them 300 times and forced them into exile. The men who exploited these women for their 'goods' were never punished. During medieval times, prostitution was so common in large cities that it was hard for kings and queens to outlaw it completely, instead it was heavily regulated. In England, single women could only be prostitutes brothels were inspected weekly. In the 1300-1400s in Italy, prostitution was seen as an integral part of life and many state-sponsored brothels were in operation. In the early 1800s in France, a government agency called the Bureau of Morals was created to inspect brothels to be sure that other criminal activities were taking place. During World War II, the Japanese government abducted between almost 300,000 women and girls from its territories and made them serve as sex slaves in brothels to serve Japanese soldiers. In India, laws have restricted legal prostitution to specific areas in large cities. Today, India's Kamathipura district in Mumbai is home Asia's largest brothels.

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In 1971, Nevada passed a law allowing its counties to decide to criminalize prostitution. Of the 17 counties, 11 have legalized prostitution. In 1999, Sweden, calling prostitution a crime against women outlawed the buying of sex while still allowing the selling of sex.


Head, Tom. "History of Prostitution - Illustrated History of Prostitution." Civil Liberties at About.com - Your Guide to Civil Liberties News and Issues. Web. 26 Apr. 2010. .

Hickenbottom, Iris L., and Melanie Ulrich. "Women's History Then & Now - Prostitution." Digital Writing and Research Lab. 18 May 2002. Web. 26 Apr. 2010. .

Comments

  1. Your last fact about Sweden makes me curious--how do they manage to outlaw buying sex without outlawing selling it? How does that work? Also, did you come across any information about the history of terminology--when was the term "sex work" or "sex worker" first used? Why is it frequently used (by some, especially feminists) instead of prostitution?

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