Law governing prostitution in France during the period between 1850 and the WWII
According to Daly (par 1), prostitution can be said to be the oldest trade and has even been traced back to the biblical era. This situation is not different with France, where, before 1850, prostitution in France was not illegal and prostituted were not alienated from the other members of the society. They were seen as part of the society and as a people with an important role to play. There were only few rules at the municipal level that only prohibited the carrying out of prostitution activities in certain streets.
Due to lack of regulation and the general acceptance of prostitution in the street of France, there was a rise in the number of brothels and people practising prostitution. This led to an increase in campaigns and advocations from individuals and groups, advocating for the abolition of prostitution in France. In this time, the prostitutes were highly concentrated in army towns and the harbours, whether they were able to obtain their customers. This was during the era of Napoleon and the period when France started the regulation of prostitution. The regulation started with introducing the local government act in the year 1851, which was meant to stop the spread of contagious diseases. This allowed the police to arrest prostitutes, who were common in army towns and the harbour and take them for compulsory medical checkups.
There was also the passing of the law of social evil ordinance in the city of St. Louis Missouri, which enabled the creation and empowering of a health board, which was responsible for the regulations of the prevailing acts of prostitution (Corbin 89). To perform its function, the board started a requirement that all should be registered and go through predetermined medical examination as a show of quality health. Determination of an individual as a prostitute was done if one was arrested twice with the case of soliciting and had to be forcefully registered as a prostitute and required to adhere to the requirement of two medical examinations in a week. The board also required that all brothels should be registered and comply with the set guidelines.
During the World War II period, there was an increase in the number of licensed brothels, prostitutes, and unlicensed prostitutes in the streets. Soldiers were most affected as during the war, they used to spend their free time with the prostitutes as they missed their wives back at home. As a result, a rise was registered in the level of gonorrhoea among the army men. These created a problem as the army men used to have sex with infected women and get themselves infected on purpose, so as to be hospitalised and escape the front line Cosmas and Cowdrey (par2). As a result, prostitutes suffering from sexually transmitted illnesses charged more money than others Roberts(par 1). This continued until the WWII, where brothels were reserved for British soldiers during their invasion of France.
After the period of the Second World War, a campaign was conducted against the brothels, which was led by a town councillor Marthe Richard, who was a former prostitute. The campaign called for the closing down of the brothels and other houses where prostitutes were held. However, it did not call for the abolition of prostitution. In 13th April, the year 1946, the campaign became a success under the support of the Christian Democratic Party and the legal brothels were closed down. However, prostitution still continued but this time without organisation exploitation.
This led to a major shift in prostitution in France as brothels became illegal. Later in 1958, there was the creation of the “office central pour de la traite des etres humains”, which was the cooperation of the branch of police and Interpol to combat the act of pimping under the minister of interior. As a result, France became one of the major advocators of abolition, and started the advocacy for prostitution eradication.
Daly, R. ‘Love for sale: A world history of prostitution’. New York, NY: Grove Press, 2004.
Cosmas and Cowdrey, The Medical Department, 542; NARA, RG 331, Entry 65, Box 7, memo dated November 17, 1944.
Roberts, M. L. The Price of Discretion: Prostitution, Venereal Disease, and the American Military in France, 1944–1946, 2010. The American Historical Review, 114(4), 1002- 1030.
Corbin, Alain. Women for hire: prostitution and sexuality in France after 1850. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1996.