Ins. Fionnuala Regan
May 20, 2013
I am sure we have all heard the old cliché “Prostitution is the world’s oldest profession” correct” Well, contrary to that old fallacy, prostitution is almost certainly not the world's oldest profession, but it has been present in nearly every civilization and throughout all recorded human history. I can say with some confidence that wherever there has been money, goods, or services to be bartered, somebody has bartered them for sex. In retrospect, it all comes down to supply and demand. In presenting this paper, my intention is to inform the inquisitive reader about prostitution; its history, the causes of prostitution and why women remain in this age old profession. What is Prostitution?
According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, prostitution has been defined as: 1 : the act or practice of engaging in promiscuous sexual relations especially for money 2 : the state of being prostituted : DEBASEMENT".
History of Prostitution
I am sure we have all heard this before: “What two consenting adults do behind closed doors is their own business.”, and in the United States, it's almost true. Arguments guarding sexual rights and privacy won out in the landmark Supreme Court ruling Lawrence v. Texas, in which state sodomy laws were declared unconstitutional. However, this ruling did not apply to people who wanted to exchange sex for money and the sex workers' rights are unprotected, and to this day, still remain a political battleground. People who bought and sold sexual services were and still are arrested, shamed, compelled into “rehabilitation” programs, and branded with criminal records. But let’s take a look when there was a time in American history when it wasn't quite so. You see, laws against selling sex are fairly new, in fact just about 100 years old, and into play after the sex trade took root in American cities. From New Amsterdam to the Louisiana colony to San Francisco's Gold Rush, historians have identified women who make some or all of their earnings selling sex, as some of the first women in early American settlements. . Let’s take a look at New Orleans, the future home of America's largest licensed red light district. In 1721, less than 700 men settled in the whole colony of Louisiana. This number excludes men held in slavery. The French sent women to the colony by ship, in the hopes that Louisiana's free men would marry these women and would cease from having sexual relations with Native American women. For the most part, the majority of these migrant women had been serving jail sentences on prostitution charges in France, and upon arriving in the colony found the sex trade provided them more independence than any arranged marriage to settlers. These women were followed later in the same year by, "other more respectable women.” as legal historian Judith Kelleher Schaffer described them. She continued: "One historian has remarked on the incredible fecundity [of these new women] and the tragic infertility of the prostitutes, as almost all of Louisiana's most important families of French descent trace their origin to the former while none claim to have descended from the latter." The French prostitutes-as-pioneers thing continued: 120 years later, in the early years of the California Gold Rush, 300 women arrived in San Francisco and called it home, According to journalist Herbert Asbury in his 1933 "informal history" The Barbary Coast, it stated that, “a third of which were harlots from Mexico, Peru, and Chili.” In 1850, a story was printed in the Pacific News announcing the departure of 900 women “carefully chosen from the bagnios of Paris and Marseille. It has been said,” Asbury wrote, “that by the end of 1852, there was no country in the world that was not represented in San Francisco by at least one prostitute.” The Invention of Red-Light Districts