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History of Prostitution

Ancient History
(2400 B.C. - 500 A.D.)
Middle Ages
(501 - 1500)
Modern Era
(1501 - 1800)
19th Century
(1801 - 1900)
Pre-World War
(1901 - 1914)
World Wars
(1915 - 1945)
Cold War
(1946 - 1991)
Present Day
(1992 - Present)

Sumerian RecordsHammurabi's CodeThe Code of AssuraLegal Brothels in ChinaLegal Brothels in Ancient Greece
Hetairai in Ancient GreeceRoman RegulationsCodex Theodosianus
2400 B.C.

Sumerian Records

"The Sumerian word for female prostitute, kar.kid, occurs in the earliest lists of professions dating back to ca. 2400 B.C. Since it appears right after nam.lukur... one can assume its connection with temple service. It is of interest that the term kur-garru, a male prostitute or transvestite entertainer, appears on the same list but together with entertainers. This linkage results from a practice connected with the cult of Ishtar, in which transvestites performed acts using knives. On the same list we find the following female occupations: lady doctor, scribe, barber, cook. Obviously, prostitution, while it is a very old profession, is not the oldest."
Gerda Lerner "The Origin of Prostitution in Ancient Mesopotamia," Signs, Winter 1986
1780 B.C.

Hammurabi's Code

Six of Hammurabi's 282 codes [ (PDF) 38KB] specifically mentioned the rights of a prostitute or child of a prostitute. [Codes 178-80, 187, 192, 193]
L.W. King The Code of Hammurabi (1910)
1075 B.C.

The Code of Assura

Assyrian law distinguished prostitutes from other women by dress in the Code of Assura. "If the wives of a man, or the daughters of a man go out into the street, their heads are to be veiled. The prostitute is not to be veiled. Maidservants are not to veil themselves. Veiled harlots and maidservants shall have their garments seized and 50 blows inflicted on them and bitumen [asphalt or tar like substance] poured on their heads."
Internet Ancient History Sourcebook "The Code of the Assura," 1998
600's B.C.

Legal Brothels in China

"According to Chinese tradition, commercial brothels were started in the seventh century B.C. by the stateman-philosopher Kuang Chung [b.710-d.645] as a means for increasing the state's income. Though there is some doubt as to whether Kuang Chung actually established the principle of licensing prostitutes, prostitution very early was set apart in special areas of the town."
Vern Bullough Bonnie Bullough Prostitution: An Illustrated Social History (1978)
594 B.C.

Legal Brothels in Ancient Greece

"The celebrated Athenian lawmaker and lyric poet Solon founded state brothels and taxed prostitutes on their earnings in the 5th century BC.... The cost of sex was one obole, a sixth of a drachma and the equivalent of an ordinary worker's day salary."
Paul Vallely "A Brief History of Brothels," The London Independent, Jan. 21, 2006
5th century B.C.

Hetairai in Ancient Greece

"[He]taira...a 'female companion'...was the term normally used for courtesans in Classical Athens...They were generally more cultivated than citizen women; they were trained (usually by older hetairai) to be entertaining and interesting rather than to be thrifty managers of households...Some hetairai functioned as entrenched mistresses or even common-law wives, but others less fortunate were essentially prostitutes."
Sarah B. Pomeroy Ancient Greece A Political, Social, and Cultural History, 1999

"Apasia, was a hetaira, one of the highly educated women from eastern Greece who entertained and accompanied men in many of their festivals, often including sex. As the mistress of Perikles, a principal ruler of Athens in the mid-fifth century B.C.E., Aspasia's influence on the Athenian leader was reputedly enormous; at various times his policies and speeches were ascribed to her."
Bella Vivante Women's Roles in Ancient Civilizations: A Reference Guide, 1999

180 B.C.

Roman Regulations

"Rent from a brothel was a legitimate source of income.... Procuration also, had to be notified before the aedile [government regulators], whose special business it was to see that no Roman matron became a prostitute.... [I]n the year 180 B C. Caligula inaugurated a tax upon prostitutes (vectigal ex capturis)...

When an applicant registered with the aedile, she gave her correct name, her age, place of birth, and the pseudonym under which she intended practicing her calling. (Plautus, Poen.)

If the girl was young and apparently respectable, the official sought to influence her to change her mind; failing in this, he issued her a license (licentia stupri), ascertained the price she intended exacting for her favors, and entered her name in his roll. Once entered there, the name could never be removed, but must remain for all time an insurmountable bar to repentance and respectability. Failure to register was severely punished upon conviction, and this applied not only to the girl but to the pandar [sic] as well. The penalty was scourging, and frequently fine and exile. Notwithstanding this, however, the number of clandestine prostitutes at Rome was probably equal to that of the registered harlots."
W. C. Firebaugh Notes in his translation of The Satyricon, Complete (1922) by Petronius Arbiter

438 A.D.

Codex Theodosianus

"...[T]he Code issues by Christian [Byzantine] Emperor Theodosius [II]... deprived fathers and mothers of their legal right to compel their daughters or slaves to prostitute themselves. The code also took steps to abolish the prostitution tax, thus giving the state less of a financial interest in prostitution..."
Vern Bullough Bonnie Bullough Prostitution: An Illustrated Social History (1978)
Justinian and TheodoraVisigoths Criminalize ProstitutionHoly Roman Army Punishes ProstitutionEngland Regulates ProstitutionCastile Regulates ProstitutionFrance Abolishes ProstitutionMunicipal BrothelsCastile Increases Pimping PunishmentSyphilis
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Justinian and Theodora

Byzantine Emperor Justinian the Great compiled the existing imperial laws into the Corpus Juris Civilis with 38 entries on prostitution. [ (PDF) 46KB] in 534.

Justinian was married to Empress Theodora, an alleged former prostitute, in 525. They created laws that banished procuresses and brothel keepers from the capital, granted freedom to slaves forced into prostitution, and banned sex in public bathhouses.
Nils Johan Ringdal Love For Sale: A World History of Prostitution (2004)
Late 500s

Visigoths Criminalize Prostitution

"A decree of Recared, Catholic king of the Visigoths of Spain (596-601) absolutely prohibited prostitution. Girls and women born of free parents convicted of either practising prostitution, or inducing debauchery, were condemned for the first offence to be flogged (300 strokes) and to be ignominously expelled from the town."
Tamae Mizuta Marie Mulvey-Roberts Perspectives on the History of British Feminism: The Rights of Married Women (1994)

Holy Roman Army Punishes Prostitution

"In 1158, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa punished prostitutes traveling with the army. When caught in the act, the prostitute was ordered to have her nose cut off in an attempt to make her less attractive. A soldier caught in the act sometimes had a finger cut off or an eye removed."
Robert M. Hardaway No Price Too High: Victimless Crimes and the Ninth Amendment (2003)

England Regulates Prostitution

Henry II allowed the regulation of London's Bankside "stew-houses" [brothels] which included rules that prohibited forced prostitution, allowed for weekly searches by constables or bailiffs, and mandated closing on holidays. Prostitutes were not allowed to live at the brothels or be married and were discouraged from taking short shifts.
Hilary Evans Harlots, Whores & Hookers: A History of Prostitution (1979)

Castile Regulates Prostitution

"...Alfonso IX['s]... ([Castilian] ruler 1188-1230)... regulations about prostitution are among the earliest in Europe. In a section of code... he concentrated on those who profited from prostitutes.... Those involved in selling prostitutes were to be exiled from the kingdom; lanlords who rented rooms to prostitutes were to have their houses impounded and also pay a fine; brothelkeepers had to free the women found in their brothels... and find them husbands or else suffer the possibility of execution; husbands who prostituted their wives were to be executed; and pimps were to be flogged for a first offense, and if they persisted were to be sent to the galleys as convicts. Women who supported pimps were to be publicly whipped and have the clothes they wore destroyed."
Vern Bullough Bonnie Bullough Prostitution: An Illustrated Social History (1978)
Dec. 1254

France Abolishes Prostitution

"In Dec. 1254 St. Louis [King Louis IX of France] "ordered the expulsion of all 'women of evil life' from his kingdom and the confiscation of their belongings and even their clothing. In 1256 he repeated the order to expel women 'free with their bodies and other common harlots', but he adds that it would be desirable to drive them out of respectable streets, to keep them as far away as possible from religious establishments, and when feasible, to force them to lodge outside the city walls. In 1269, on the eve of his departure for his second crusade, he sent the regents a letter reminding them of the decree of 1254 and urging them to enforce it strictly so that this evil could be extirpated root and branch."
Jacques Rossiaud Medieval Prostitution (1988)

Municipal Brothels

"It was between 1350 and 1450 that the cities institutionalized prostitution, setting up a prostibulum publicum [municipal brothel] when the city did not already have one. The Castelletto in Venice opened its doors in 1360.... Florence took a similar decision in 1403; Siena in 1421."
Jacques Rossiaud Medieval Prostitution (1988)

"When the Great Council of Venice ratified a decree in 1358 that declared prostitution 'absolutely indispensable to the world,' this was a definite sign of the times."
Nils Johan Ringdal Love For Sale: A World History of Prostitution (2004)

Castile Increases Pimping Punishment

"...[I]n 1469 a special ordinance of Henry IV, King of Castila, was launched against the men engaged in it, who acting as procurers, associated themselves with the women and were called ruffians: when any such were found, they were for the first offense to receive 100 lashes; for the second they were to be banished for life; for the third they were to be hung."
Tamae Mizuta Marie Mulvey-Roberts Perspectives on the History of British Feminism: The Rights of Married Women (1994)


Beginning in the 1490s the Great Pox (syphilis) ravaged Europe for nearly a century. "The recognition of the veneral nature of infection, and the fear of disease, combined with the moral fervor of the various sixteenth-century Reformers, resulted in a reaction against prostitution."
Vern Bullough Bonnie Bullough Prostitution: An Illustrated Social History (1978)
Elite Renaissance Courtesans in ItalyEngland Ends RegulationFrance Abolishes BrothelsPunishment Increases in SeverityJapan Creates Red-Light DistrictsChastity Commission in ViennaFrance's Lenoir Ordinance
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16th Century

Elite Renaissance Courtesans in Italy

"An aristocratic and courtly environment with limited access to aristocratic and courtly women… engendered a higher caliber of prostitute -- a woman who was not only young and beautiful, but who could grace with wit and charm a dinner or an evening otherwise dominated by male clerics...[T]he courtesan flourished as an elite form of prostitute quickly copied by an increasingly aristocratic upper class throughout Italy...

The ideal was that unlike the common whore, who was available to all, the universal victim at the bottom of the hierarchy of prostitution, the 'honest courtesan' was an exacting mistress...who judged honestly her suitors, accepting only the best."
Guido Ruggiero Binding Passions: Tales of Magic, Marriage, and Power at the End of the Renaissance, 1993
Apr. 13, 1546

England Ends Regulation

Henry VIII's royal proclamation ended England's "toleration" for prostitutes who he called "dissolute and miserable persons."
Henry Ansgar Kelly "Bishop, Prioress, and Bawd in the Stews of Southwark," Speculum, Apr. 2000

France Abolishes Brothels

"An ordinance of Charles IX., dated 1560, prohibited the opening or keeping of any brothel or house of reception for prostitutes in Paris.... In 1588 an ordinance of Henry III. reaffirmed the ordinance of 1560, and alleged that the magistrates of the city had connived at the establishment of brothels. Ordinances of the provost followed in the same strain, and all prostitutes were required to leave Paris within twenty-four hours."
William Sanger The History of Prostitution: Its Extent, Causes and Effects Throughout the World (1858) Full Text (PDF) 48.33MB

Punishment Increases in Severity

"...[I]n 1586, Pope Sixtus V declared that the death penalty would be imposed on prostitution and 'sins against nature.' Sixtus V intended his command to be followed all over the Catholic world. There were some death sentences, but not many. For their part, the Lutherans continued to shave off both hair and ears; the Calvinists branded, and burdened with large stones carried around the city, and employed the stocks in public places."
Nils Johan Ringdal Love For Sale: A World History of Prostitution (2004)

Japan Creates Red-Light Districts

The red-light district Yoshiwara [Good Luck Meadow] was "established in 1617 on the edge of the city [Edo now known as Tokyo] to gather all legal brothels in an out-of-the-way spot, the Yoshiwara was relocated in 1656 following Edo's rapid expansion.

It burned down a year later in the Meireki Fire and was rebuilt in 1659, this time out past Asakusa. Officially renamed Shin (New) Yoshiwara, it was now permitted to carry on night time operations, which were prohibited in the old quarter."
Gerald Figal "A Night at the Yoshiwara,", Last accessed May 25, 2007


Chastity Commission in Vienna

In 1751 Empress Maria Theresa established the Chastity Commission at Vienna which lasted until her son, Emperor Joseph II, abolished it. "Its object was indeed not only to suppress prostitution, but fornication generally, and the means adopted were fines, imprisonment, whipping and torture. The supposed causes of fornication were also severly dealt with; short dresses were prohibited, billiard rooms and cafes were inspected and no waitresses were allowed."
Anna Mary Galbraith The Family and the New Democracy: A Study in Social Hygiene (1920) Full Text (PDF) 6.39MB
Nov. 6, 1778

France's Lenoir Ordinance

Prostitutes did not legally exist in France after 1560 but were unofficially licensed by police. For example the Lenoir ordinance "purported to renew the 1560 Act..." stated "[p]rostitutes - femmes de débauche - were forbidden to exist. If, however, they insisted on existing, they were forbidden to walk in public places or display themselves at windows in such a way as to attract custom; and, if they insisted on doing these forbidden things, they must do them only in certain parts of the city."
Hilary Evans Harlots, Whores & Hookers: A History of Prostitution (1979)
DATES/EVENTS 19th CENTURY (1801 - 1899)
Bureau des Moeurs of ParisNetherlands Begins RegulationBritain's Contagious Diseases ActSt. Louis RegulatesU.S. Forbids Prostitution ImmigrationBritain Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885New Orleans' StoryvilleJapan Centralizes Regulation
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Bureau des Moeurs of Paris

"...[T]he Revolution of 1789 threw the legal status of prostitution into some question, as revolutionaries raised doubts concerning the standing of royal decrees previously outlawing it. Into this breach stepped the Bureau des Moeurs of Paris, which began life in an administrative decree of 1802 and ended up as a massive governmental department. By the time of its demise in 1903, it commanded a budget of over 100,000 francs a year and its methods were copied throughout the rest of France. Indeed the Bureau des Moeurs was the very model of state 'toleration' of prostitution, a model both hailed and decried by reformers around the world."
Kristin Luker "Sex, Social Hygiene, and the State: The Double-Edged Sword of Social Reform," Theory and Society, Oct. 1998

Netherlands Begins Regulation

Napoleon introduced a system of regulation to the Netherlands in 1810. It ended in 1813 when the French withdrew. Slowly the system came back and the Local Government Act of 1851 again institituted regulation to prevent the spread of disease.
Johannes C.J. Boutellier "Prostitution, Criminal Law and Morality in the Netherlands," Crime, Law and Social Change May 1991
July 29, 1864

Britain's Contagious Diseases Act

"The 1864 [Contagious Diseases] Act was followed in 1866 by a second Act which made the system permanent, and a third Act in 1869 which extended the system although still confining it to towns of military and navy use."

This legislation allowed the police to arrest prostitutes in ports and army towns and bring them in to have compulsory checks for venereal disease. If the women tested positive they were hospitalized until cured. It was claimed many of the women arrested were not prostitutes resulting in forced medical examinations and hospitalizations. The law was repealed Mar. 26, 1886.
Trevor Fisher Prostitution and the Victorians (1997)

July 5, 1870

St. Louis Regulates

The city of St. Louis, Missouri passed the Social Evil Ordinance empowering the Board of Health to regulate prostitution. The Board of Health required registration and medical examination of all known prostitutes as well as the licensing of brothels. The medical examiners were paid by fees collected from the 'social evilists' (prostitutes) and madams. The ordinance was nullified by the Missouri state legislature in 1874.
Duane R. Sneddeker “Regulating Vice: Prostitution and the St. Louis Social Evil Ordinance, 1870–1874,” Gateway Heritage Fall 1990
Mar. 3, 1875

U.S. Forbids Prostitution Immigration

U.S. Congress passed the Page Act of 1875 [ (PDF) 3KB] that outlawed the importation of women into the United States for the purposes of prostitution.
Aug. 14, 1885

Britain Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885

A public sensation caused by William T. Stead's stories of white slavery and child prostitution in the Pall Mall Gazette helped pass the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 which was an "Act to make further provisions for the protection of women and girls, the suppression of brothels, and other purposes"
Trevor Fisher Prostitution and the Victorians (1997)

New Orleans' Storyville

New Orleans' first anti-prostitution ordinance was the 1857 Lorette ordinance which prohibited prostitution on the first floor of buildings but was soon after declared unconstitutional. In July 1865, after the Civil War, more regulations were made leading up to the creation of the red-light district of Storyville in 1897. It ended legally in 1917 due to concerns over health risks to U.S. soldiers.
Alecia P. Long The Great Southern Babylon: Sex, Race, and Respectability in New Orleans, 1865-1920 (2004)

Japan Centralizes Regulation

"Regulation of the prostitutes themselves became the province of the central government in 1900, when the Home Ministry issued the Rules Regulating Licensed Prostitutes. That same year, the Administrative Enforcement Law (Gyosei shikkoho) gave police extensive powers to arrest unlicensed prostitutes and order them to undergo medical examinations."
Sheldon Garon "The World's Oldest Debate? Prostitution and the State in Imperial Japan, 1900-1945," The American Historical Review, Apr. 1993
New York's Committee of 15American Society of Sanitary and Moral Prophylaxis FormsKeller v. United StatesMann ActNetherlands Bans BrothelsChicago Vice ReportHoke v. United StatesBureau of Social Hygiene FormsAmerican Social Hygiene Association Forms
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New York's Committee of 15

In the fall of 1900 the Committee of 15 was formed to examine how New York City should treat prostitution. Its 1902 report The Social Evil opposed regulation and included recommendations such as improvements to housing, health care, and increasing women's wages.
Committee of Fifteen The Social Evil (1912) Full Text (PDF) 5.17MB
Feb. 12, 1905

American Society of Sanitary and Moral Prophylaxis Forms

The American Society of Sanitary and Moral Prophylaxis was formed by Dr. Price A. Morrow to combat veneral diseases and prostitution. The organization thought "[m]unicipalities can better devote their energies to teaching and warning against her than in regulating her in business. Education is cheaper and more effective."
George P. Dale "Moral Prophylaxis: Prostitutes and Prostitution," The American Journal of Nursing, Oct. 1911
Apr. 5, 1909

Keller v. United States

The U.S. Supreme Court in Keller v. United States ruled that deporting a resident alien who become a prostitute after entering the U.S. violates the Tenth Amendment.
Keller v. United States (PDF) 17KB Apr. 5, 1909
June 25, 1910

Mann Act

The Mann Act or White-Slave Traffic Act [ (PDF) 8KB] became law on June 25, 1910. Named after Rep. James Robert Mann (R-IL) it created federal law against "prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose." It dealt with forced prostitution, harboring immigrant prostitutes, and the transportation across state lines. "As of April 1912 the white slave investigations overshadowed the entire balance of the Bureau's [the future Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)] work."

The Mann Act came at a time when the prostitution debate and the white-slave trade were high-profile issues. "In the twenty years between 1890 and 1909, thirty-six entries [in Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature] appear under the heading 'prostitution.' Forty-one entries appear in the ten years, between 1915 and 1924. But for the mere five years between 1910 and 1914, 'prostitution' carries no less than 156 entries."
David J. Langum Crossing Over The Line (1994)


Netherlands Bans Brothels

"In 1911 a new public morality act was enacted in the Netherlands. Article 250bis of the penal code states that it is forbidden to give opportunity for prostitution [brothel keeping]."
Johannes C.J. Boutellier "Prostitution, Criminal Law and Morality in the Netherlands," Crime, Law and Social Change May 1991

Chicago Vice Report

"...[I]t must be remembered that the most serious evils of this traffic in virtue are not physical but moral, and that the most effective means of counteracting them must ever be in the elevation of the moral sentiment of the community to a sense of individual responsibility for upright conduct in behalf of decency and virtue."
Chicago Vice Commission The Social Evil in Chicago (1911) Full Text (PDF) 20.7MB
Feb. 24, 1911

Hoke v. United States

The U.S. Supreme Court in Hoke v. United States held that regulating prostitution was strictly the province of the states but that Congress could regulate interstate travel for purposes of prostitution or immoral purposes.
Hoke v. United States (PDF) 15KB Feb. 24, 1911

Bureau of Social Hygiene Forms

The Bureau of Social Hygiene was incorporated by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., in 1913 as a result of his service on a special grand jury to investigate white slavery in New York City in 1910. The purpose of the Bureau was "the study, amelioration, and prevention of those social conditions, crimes, and diseases which adversely affect the well-being of society, with special reference to prostitution and the evils associated therewith."
The Rockefeller Archive Center "Bureau of Social Hygiene Archives, 1911-1940" ( Last accessed May 30, 2007

"Within a few years, the Bureau of Social Hygiene commissioned and supported two important investigations: George Jackson Kneeland's Commercialized Prostitution in New York City (1913) [ (PDF) 16.69MB] and Abraham Flexner's researches into European methods of dealing with prostitution, Prostitution in Europe (1914) [ (PDF) 24.25MB]. ...[T]he bureau sponsored research on aspects of prostitution such as police systems, the need for women police, legal statutes, and court reform and produced a series of psychological studies of delinquent women."
Mark Thomas Connelly The Response to Prostitution in the Progressive Era (1980)

American Social Hygiene Association Forms

"[I]n 1913... the American Vigilance Association, (which had by then incorporated the American Purity Alliance as well as all of its scattered affiliates) joined with the Federation [American Federation for Sex Hygiene formerly American Society of Sanitary and Moral Prophylaxis] to form the American Social Hygiene Association as the formal unification of the purity strand and the physicians' strand was accomplished."
Kristin Luker "Sex, Social Hygiene, and the State: The Double-Edged Sword of Social Reform," Theory and Society, Oct. 1998
Commission on Training Camp ActivitiesU.S. Chamberlain-Kahn ActRussia Re-educates ProstitutesGermany Decriminalizes ProstitutionJapan's "Comfort Women"Nazi's Recriminalize ProstitutionNazi's Regulate ProstitutionMortensen v. United States
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Apr. 17, 1917

Commission on Training Camp Activities

"The Commission on Training Camp Activities (CTCA) was created by the federal government to deal with the sexual and moral aspects of the training camps... Investigators from the Legal Education Division of the CTCA surveyed prostitution in cities near the cantonments and were able (as the earlier vice commissions were not) to bring federal pressure to bear in eliminating the most visible aspects of prostitution: red-light districts and street solicitation."
Mark Thomas Connelly The Response to Prostitution in the Progressive Era (1980)
July 9, 1918

U.S. Chamberlain-Kahn Act

"Uncontrolled venereal disease could decimate an army as surely as casualties in battle.... Under the Chamberlain-Kahn Act, the government could quarantine for the 'protection of the military and naval forces of the United States' any woman suspected of having venereal disease. The discovery of venereal infection upon examination could constitute proof of prostitution. In effect, during the war any American woman could legally be detained and medically examined if, in the opinion of officials of the CTCA or the Interdepartmental Social Hygiene Board, her life-style or observed or rumored sexual behavior indicated that she might be infected."
Mark Thomas Connelly The Response to Prostitution in the Progressive Era (1980)

Russia Re-educates Prostitutes

"In 1919 a Committee for the Suppression of Prostitution was inaugurated at the Public Health Office in Moscow. Its operations were conducted not against the girls - seen as unwilling victims of the czarist regime - but against the capitalist-created institution itself; since the causes could be diagnosed as purely economic, the remedy lay in economic solutions. So the girls were sent away to labour colonies to be trained as nurses or re-educated in other trades..."
Hilary Evans Harlots, Whores & Hookers: A History of Prostitution (1979)

Germany Decriminalizes Prostitution

Before 1927 prostitution was generally illegal but cities were allowed to regulate things such as STD testing, where prostitutes could live, and where prostitutes could travel. "The... [Law for Combating Venereal Diseases] decriminalized prostitution in general, abolished the morals police, and outlawed regulated brothels. These were major achievements from the perspective of prostitutes' rights. However, to secure passage of the reform, Social Democrats and liberals were forced to make important concessions to the moral Right, who opposed a consistent decriminalization of prostitution. Clause 16/4 of the anti-VD law... made street soliciting illegal in areas adjacent to churches and schools as well as in towns with a population smaller than 15,000."
Julia Roos "Backlash against Prostitutes' Rights: Origins and Dynamics of Nazi Prostitution Policies," Journal of the History of Sexuality, Jan.-Apr. 2002

Japan's "Comfort Women"

"Military brothels were created all over the occupied areas of Asia during the war for the use of Japanese soldiers: the first were set up as early as 1932 [in Shanghai, China], but most were created after the outbreak of full-scale fighting in China in 1937. Some of these were managed by civilians for profit, but frequented by members of the Japanese armed forces; others were established and run directly by the Japanese military.... The number of women recruited to work in these places is unknown - estimates vary from 20,000 to 400,000, though a careful study by historian Yoshimi Yoshiaki suggests a narrower range of between 50,000 and 200,000. The methods of recruitment and the conditions which women faced also varied enormously. Some were Japanese women who had worked as prostitutes previously, and were 'volunteers' in a sense, although often driven to 'volunteer' through pressures of poverty, debt and desperation. A very large number were women from Korea and China. Many had been lured away from their homes with promises of work in factories or restaurants, only to find themselves incarcerated in 'comfort stations' in foreign lands. Other women in Korea, Southeast Asia and elsewhere were rounded up at gunpoint."
Tessa Morris-Suzuki "Japan’s ‘Comfort Women’," Japan Focus, Mar. 8, 2007
May 1933

Nazi's Recriminalize Prostitution

"In May 1933 the Nazis effectively outlawed street soliciting. The revised Clause 361/6 criminalized any form of public solicitation pursued 'in a conspicuous manner or in a manner suited to harass individuals or the public.' Parallel to these new legal restrictions on prostitution, the police engaged in massive raids on streetwalkers. Though no comprehensive figures exist, it has been estimated that 'thousands, even more likely tens of thousands' of prostitutes were arrested during the spring and summer of 1933."
Julia Roos "Backlash against Prostitutes' Rights: Origins and Dynamics of Nazi Prostitution Policies," Journal of the History of Sexuality, Jan.-Apr. 2002

Nazi's Regulate Prostitution

Nazi's began regulating brothels in the fall of 1934. "By 1939 at the latest, Nazi prostitution policies diverged in important ways from previous systems of regulationism. Conventionally, state-regulated prostitution aimed to protect 'respectable' society against moral 'pollution' by prostitutes. The Nazis also strove to eradicate street soliciting and to confine prostitutes to tightly supervised brothels.... For the first time, a German government made the establishment of supervised brothels compulsory for all cities and issued standardized regulations for the operation of 'public houses.' What was new about the Nazi system... was the attempt to use the state... to create a certain form of human sexuality. Nazi brothels aimed to maintain the physical fitness and morale of 'Aryan' men. At the same time, the persecution of prostitutes intensified greatly. Previously, prostitutes who violated police orders were punished with fines or short prison and workhouse sentences. In the Third Reich, such violations frequently led to streetwalkers' internment in a concentration camp."
Julia Roos "Backlash against Prostitutes' Rights: Origins and Dynamics of Nazi Prostitution Policies," Journal of the History of Sexuality, Jan.-Apr. 2002
May 14, 1944

Mortensen v. United States

The U.S. Supreme Court in Mortensen v. United States ruled that prostitutes could travel across state lines without violating the Mann Act if the "sole purpose of the journey from beginning to end was to provide innocent recreation" without prostituting.
Mortensen v. United States (PDF) 15KB May 14, 1944
Japan Ends Indentured ServitudeFrance Bans BrothelsJapan Passes Anti-Prostitution LawBritain Legalizes ProstitutionNevada Regulates ProstitutionCOYOTE FormsAIDSWorld Whore Congress
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Feb. 1946

Japan Ends Indentured Servitude

"The Tokyo Brothel-Keepers Association, 'moved,' they said, 'by a spirit of democracy,' recently freed their girls from the traditional system of indentured servitude, which had long been the basis of the famed Yoshiwara district. Last week General MacArthur, in the name of 'the fundamental human rights,' made it an order."
Time Magazine "Yoshiwara Democratized," Feb. 4, 1946
Apr. 13, 1946

France Bans Brothels

France closed its brothels and prohibited solicitation, but the act of prostitution stayed legal.
Alain Corbin Women for Hire: Prostitution and Sexuality in France After 1850 (1990)
May 24, 1956

Japan Passes Anti-Prostitution Law

Japan’s Law No. 118, the 1956 Anti-Prostitution Law was enacted May 24, 1956 and put in-force April 1, 1958. "With that law, the 300-year history of Tokyo's Yoshiwara brothel quarters came to an end -- as did approximately 500 areas utilized for similar purposes around the country."
The Mainichi Daily News "The Day Japan's Red Lights Flickered Out," Feb. 25, 2006

Britain Legalizes Prostitution

Based on the recommendation of the Wolfenden Report, Britain decriminalized prostitution but banned solicitation and other related activities with the Street Offense Act of 1959.
Time Magazine "Off the Streets," Aug. 31, 1959

Nevada Regulates Prostitution

In 1971 the state of Nevada began to formally regulate prostitution giving rural counties the option to license brothels.
Richard Symanski "Prostitution in Nevada," Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Sept. 1974


COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics), the first prostitute's rights group in the United States, is formed in San Francisco by Margo St. James in 1973. Similar groups form across the country form such as FLOP (Friends and Lovers of Prostitutes), HIRE (Hooking Is Real Employment), and PUMA (Prostitute Union of Massachusetts Association).
Valerie Jenness "From Sex as Sin to Sex as Work: COYOTE and the Reorganization of Prostitution as a Social Problem," Social Problems Aug. 1990
June 5, 1981


On June 5, 1981 the the first mention of what would later be named AIDS appears in medical literature in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "Pneumocystis Pneumonia - Los Angeles," Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, June 5, 1981 (PDF) 124KB

World Whore Congress

"...[T]he International Committee for Prositutes' Rights held its first congress in Amsterdam in 1985." This was the first international meeting of prostitute's rights groups.
Nils Johan Ringdal Love For Sale: A World History of Prostitution (2004)
The Swedish ApproachNetherlands Legalizes BrothelsGermany Reforms LawNew Zealand DecriminalizesBritain Considers Policy ChangeU.S. Communities Vote For and Against Legal ProstitutionCourt Rules Prostitution Isn't PornHawaii Considers Decriminalization
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Jan. 1, 1999

The Swedish Approach

Sweden classified prostitution as male violence against women and children stating that only the customer should be considered a criminal.
BBC "How Sweden Tackles Prostitution," Feb. 8, 2007
Oct. 1, 2000

Netherlands Legalizes Brothels

"Brothels... were illegal until 1 October 2000, when articles 250bis and 432 were removed from the Criminal Code and the ban on brothels and pimping lifted. It is now legal to run a business where men or women over the age of consent are voluntarily employed as prostitutes. The person running the business must satisfy certain conditions and obtain a licence from the local authorities."
Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs "Dutch Policy on Prostitution," 2005 Full Text (PDF) 34KB

Germany Reforms Law

The 2002 German Prostitution Reform Law declared prostitution was no longer immoral, that pimping is legal if enforced with formal contracts, it increased access to state health insurance and pension schemes, and allowed prostitutes to sue their clients for non-payment.
BBC "German Prostitutes Get New Rights," Dec. 12, 2001
June 25, 2003

New Zealand Decriminalizes

On June 25, 2003, by a vote of 60-59, the New Zealand Parliament passed the Prostitution Reform Act of 2003 [ (PDF) 47KB] that decriminalized prostitution and created a system of regulations for brothels.
BBC "NZ Votes To Legalise Prostitution," June 25, 2003
July 2004

Britain Considers Policy Change

Britain's Home Office produced the report Paying The Price [ (PDF) 603KB] examining the various legal strategies towards prostitution as the government considers possible policy changes.
Britain Home Office "Paying the Price," July 2004
Nov. 2, 2004

U.S. Communities Vote For and Against Legal Prostitution

In 2004 the city of Berkeley, California voted 63.51% against decriminalizing prostitution [ (PDF) 204KB]. The same day Churchill County, Nevada voted 62.78% to keep brothels legal [ (PDF) 19KB] even though no brothels existed in the county at the time.

Hawaii Considers Decriminalization

"A bill to legalize some prostitution in the islands has the backing of at least 14 state lawmakers and many women's rights advocates. Supporters say they mainly want to start debate of the sensitive topic and explore alternatives to decades of selling sex on Honolulu streets.... House Bill 982 [ (PDF) 15KB] (and companion Senate Bill 706) might not pass this year. It appears unlikely the bill will get a hearing this session. The decriminalization bill would permit sexual favors done in private, and it would designate areas where prostitution is allowed." [The bill did not receive a hearing.]
Mark Niesse "Prostitution Bill Gains Support," Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Feb. 13, 2007