The Origins of White Slavery
Keep thee from the evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue
of a strange woman. . . For by means of a whorish woman a
man is brought to a piece of bread: and the adulteress will
hunt for the precious life.
The Holy Bible (1611 edn), Proverbs 6.24 and 26
Instead of condemning. . . reason, argument, and the unerring laws of nature plead strongly in behalf of the unfortunate, seduced, and ruined woman. . . Let us then with an open and munificent hand contribute to the relief of these our distressed fellow-creatures.
Richard Harrison, A Sermon.. . before the
Governors of the Magdalen-Charity (1768), 11, 20
The trafficking of persons, particularly women. . . for sexual exploitation, is one of the most egregious violations of human rights that the United Nations now confronts. It is widespread and growing. It is rooted in social and economic conditions. United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (2004), iv
In the eighteenth century attitudes to prostitution were transformed
for ever. The conventional Protestant view had been that common
whores were the worst sexual reprobates of all. They were given the
harshest punishments: summarily whipped, imprisoned, and set to hard labour. During the 1650s, when the Adultery Act made them liable to execution, hundreds were simply rounded up, ripped from their friends and families, and transported thousands of miles across the ocean to the West Indies, without so much as a trial. The entire culture of sexual discipline depended on such severity. For the terrible threat that lustful, avaricious whores posed to social order was abundantly illustrated in the Bible, and deeply imprinted upon the minds of ordinary men and women. Prostitutes had no special licence, no necessary function: on the contrary. Any unchaste woman was a whore; repeated promiscuity merely deepened her sin and her monstrousness.
Long after 1800, prostitutes continued to be treated as dangerous spreaders of disease and disorder. But from the middle of the eighteenth century this perspective was increasingly matched, and often overshadowed, by the emergence of alternative attitudes to commercial sex. Whores were henceforth as likely to be regarded with sympathy as with condemnation. In the eyes of countless eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and twentieth-century thinkers and activists, prostitution exemplified the nature of masculinity and femininity in modern western society – in its sexual theory and practice, its class dynamics, and its distribution of economic and political power.