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History of Prostitution

The discussion of prostitution has been widely popular and assisted in society forming several different opinions. The focus of this blog is going to be analyzing the influence of prostitution in Christina Rosetti’s The Goblin Market and Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders; along with discussing the past and current issues and legal battles of prostitution. I will also be inviting readers to look at how prostitution is influential on gender roles and the stereotypical woman behaviour.

To begin with, I thought it would be beneficial to have a background of information on how society viewed prostitution. Prostitution is defined as the “practice of exchanging money for sexual services” (Canadian Encyclopedia). At the beginning of the 1800s in Canada, prostitution was mainly run through “brothels.” Brothels are a term used to describe homes where men could go to receive their sexual services. These brothels were normally organized by a man or woman who did not participate in the exchange. In the 1800s, there a lot more brothels that were publicly known and these houses were normally grouped together to attract the most attention. Within the same environment of the brothels, there was also other entertainment such as drinking and gambling. For example, Halifax provided gambling and alcohol along with the sexual service (Canadian Encyclopedia). These areas were known to be the most finically successful houses in the first half of the 19th Century (Canadian Encyclopedia). In Canada, what assisted with the success of brothels was the development of the railways and the westward expansion. This expansion and demand for working men really provided the opportunity for brothel houses to flourish as single men were forced to leave their homes (Canadian Encyclopedia). During that time, society didn’t create much of a debacle in forcing the brothels to close. In the 1890s, legal repression made it much more difficult for brothels to continue their service and operate in a smooth manner (Canadian Encyclopedia). As a result of the legal repression, “street based” prostitution became much more popular. When I say “street based” prostitution, this would be what we see in movies. A popular example of street based prostitution would be Pretty Woman, when Julia Roberts approaches Richard Gere’s car and offers her service. Some street based prostitutes also have to answer to a “pimp” who would be a man that runs there service and takes a portion of the money they make.tumblr_m12h2rWff51rrb9iko1_1280

There has been plenty of social and legal response to brothels and towards prostitution in general. These responses can be categorized into five distinct time periods.

Pre-Confederation (1759-1867)

During this time period, the prostitutes and the individuals who operated and attended the brothel houses were deemed “vagrants” and were most likely to be prosecuted under the law (Canadian Encyclopedia). It began as being tolerated in some areas, however once it was seen as a “direct threat” towards reputable and respectable citizens then prostitution was repressed.

Victorian (1897-1920)

After Confederation, more complex provisions were introduced to ensure the protection of women and children from “procurers, pimps and brothel keepers” (Canadian Encyclopedia). Upon the Criminal Code being finalized in 1892, there were various laws and criminal offenses that affected brothel homes and prostitutes (Canadian Encyclopedia).

Post-Victorian (1920-1970)

The treatment of men and women has somewhat changed since this time period; however it was during this time period where, in regards to prostitution, it was blatantly obvious that women were seen to be below men. During this time period, women were the only ones to commonly be criminalized for selling sexual services. Furthermore, the convictions for women greatly outnumbered that of men (Canadian Encyclopedia).

Rise of the Sex Work Advocacy (1970-1990)

Throughout this era, the working woman became increasingly higher. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, “prostitution was portrayed as either insidious source as neighbourhood decay or as a public nuisance in residential areas” (Canadian Encyclopedia). This explanation essentially demonstrates how prostitutes became a lot more popular but the opinion of them became more negative. In 1983, a special committee was established to specifically address reports that involved either brothels or prostitutes (Canadian Encyclopedia).

Contemporary (1990-present)

Currently the issue of prostitution has been in the news and media for some time due to the legal aspect. The safety of women has become a major concern and to reach a solution, working women have been fighting for their rights. I am going to provide more in-depth understanding in my later posts.