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History of Prostitution in the US


Prostitution arrived in North America with the early European settlers. According to The Reader's Companion to American History, there was no Native American counterpart to the purchase of sexual favors (Gilfoyle). As with so many other 'gifts' of the white man, sex for hire has taken root in American culture and seems to have flourished. Popularity notwithstanding, temperance and religious groups fought to guarantee that the United States outlawed soliciting and offering sex for money by the early 1900's.

This remains the case in all but one state; in 1971 Nevada legalized prostitution in counties with a population of less than 400,000 (Gilfoyle). Even in Nevada, the laws permit prostitution more by omission than by outright statements to its legality (Brents and Hausbeck, 312). This puts the brothels now operating in rural Nevada on precarious legal ground; the owners and operators must take great care not to offend their respective communities. Most brothels employ strict curfews and live-in policies for their workers that offer a degree of protection against both outside criticism and dangers to the prostitutes.

In the rest of the United States, however, the social problems experienced under the current laws prohibiting prostitution include transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), exorbitant amounts spent on prosecuting offenders, and the risks involved for women working alone on the streets. Nevada appears to have controlled these issues in counties where brothels are both legal and licensed.

It can therefore be hypothesized that regulated legalization will effectively control the social problems caused by illicit prostitution in the rest of the country.