The Surprising Reason Why Prostitution Is Illegal

Believe it or not, brothels were widespread and prostitution largely legal up until the end of World War II. So why were they outlawed?

Brothels have only been illegal in the U.S. and Europe since the end of WWII. Some argue that making sex work illegal has caused less safety and autonomy for the prostitutes, and that they were much better off when they were working in a legal trade. Others argue that legal sex work only truly benefits pimps and clients. So why was prostitution made illegal in the first place?

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The first known brothels were started in Greece in the 5th century BC, and spread throughout Europe during the medieval period. Married men and men of the clergy were not allowed to attend them, although this was not strictly enforced. Brothels were run by Madams, typically a former prostitute herself, who managed the house, did all the hiring and firing, and collected money from each woman to pay for her room and board. These room and board fees were quite expensive, which left the prostitutes with very little income, forcing them to stay within the trade.

During WWII, Nazis seized control of some of the most luxurious brothels in Paris to use at their leisure. After the war, the prostitutes were seen as conspirators and dragged into the street by angry mobs who shaved their heads and carved swastikas onto their face. Afterwards, the French leader Charles de Gaulle, along with Marthe Richard, former prostitute turned politician, worked to close all brothels in France, and soon the rest of Europe and America followed.

Today, prostitution is legal in several countries including New Zealand, where Amnesty International argues that the prostitutes have a much better quality of life than in places where sex work is criminalized. Amnesty is pushing for prostitution to be legalized worldwide as a human right, but many people think only clients and pimps would benefit, not the sex workers themselves.

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Read more about the history of brothels:

Huffington Post: Here's What Amnesty International's Sex Work Proposal Really Means

The Independent: A Brief History of Brothels