The causes of prostitution
THE CAUSES OF PROSTITUTION
The wonder is that there is not a greater degree of public
appreciation of the prostitute-making conditions
which society harbors because it foolishly
thinks that it profits by them.
By JAMES P. WARBASSE
A prostitute is a woman who offers herbody for hire to men for their sexualpleasure. Sexual promiscuity on thepart of women, not practised for money,does not constitute prostitution. Nordoes the mere granting of sexual privilegesfor money constitute prostitution;if it did, women who marry for moneywould fall within this class. Prostitutionmeans promiscuity for hire.
We should approach its study withsympathetic minds. The prostitute inAmerica is likely to be a weak characterwho has fallen a victim to the viciousconditions which society maintains. Theglamor and gayety, which flippantly arespoken of as associated with her traffic,really do not exist for her. Her lot byno means is a happy one. She reconcilesherself to this life usually becauseher mind is empty of better things.When once engaged in prostitution, itis difficult for the woman to escape fromit unless powerful social forces arebrought to bear.
The specific causes which promptwomen to enter this traffic may be classifiedas follows: (I) those affectingboth sexes, (II) those affecting first themale, and (III) those bearing especiallyupon the female.
Before proceeding with an enumerationof causative factors, let it be notedthat the two fundamental causes are (a)sexual lust on the part of men and (b)poverty on the part of women. Theother causes which will be given are subsidiaryto these two. Anything thatmakes for sexual looseness, that breaksdown the fiber of sexual morality,makes for prostitution. We may evengo so far as to include all agencieswhich provoke sexual excitement.Among these are many contributingconditions, some predominated by good,some by evil. Thus, as sexual excitants,on the one hand is music, with a maximumpower for good and a minimumpower for evil; and on the other, alcohol,with a minimum power for good anda maximum power for evil. An analysisof the causative factors is not completeunless it takes into account thesesecondary influences.
I. A chief subsidiary cause commonto both sexes is defective education,which is responsible for ignorance ofthe simple principles of sexual biology,sexual hygiene, and sexual disease. Boysand girls growing up, first learn ofthese things from their vulgar companions,stumble into love, courtship, andmarriage, blundering and groping--allbecause they have been denied instructionin one of the subjects which arevital for their health and happiness.Venereal diseases and sexual sins areaugmented because of the ignorancewhich prudishness insists upon. Womenfall; men patronize the prostitutes,contract gonorrhea and syphilis, andcarry them to their wives, because ofthis ignorance; and society reapswretchedness and vice.
Were girls told the dangers of extra-marital sexual congress--how it ultimately[pg 4]means either pregnancy orvenereal disease--and could they knowthe meaning and consequences of thesetwo conditions, from both physicaland social standpoints, the ranks of theprostitutes would be much depleted.
Many a girl would not have made hersexual mistakes had she been advised. Itis not because there was not time in thehome or school to teach her a littlepractical sociology. No, there wastime to teach her many other things ofminor importance. In fact, it will alwaysbe found that these girls havezealously been taught many things thatare not true, and that would be of littleservice to them if they were true. Thereason the girl was not given this usefulinformation is that for two thousandyears the "pleasures of the flesh" havebeen regarded as evil. It has beendroned out by sad-voiced prelates that"man is conceived in sin." Thiswretched dogma has made its impressionon the human heart; mothers andfathers are loath to speak of these sinfulthings to the young; and their girlsgrow up ignorant, and go into prostitutionfor want of the saving information.
Another defect of education is thatwhich exalts prudishness under the guiseof modesty. The draping of the body,to hide its parts from view, had its originin Christendom in the doctrine that"the flesh is evil." Instead of hiding thebody, this practice has directed attentionto the covered parts. The vision ofimagination has penetrated all draperies,and carried with it the lascivioussense which the unobstructed eye wouldnot. Sensuality has been promotedrather than suppressed. The exhibitionof the naked human body is the beginningof sexual morality. Unnecessarilyto cover and screen it from visionis to insult it with shame which it doesnot deserve, proclaim it as evil, and directattention to its more specializedsexual parts.
II. Of the causes which operate firstupon the male factor, (1) the doublestandard of sexual morals is most important.It prompts men to employ theprostitute. They demand her as amasculine right. (2) Deferred marriageis another element. The causes ofdeferred marriage are largely economic,and rest upon the disproportion betweenwages and the cost of living. Thewage-earning class is mulcted of mostof the material wealth it produces. Menare paid neither their just wage norenough to warrant assuming the responsibilitiesof marriage. The socialsystem which bestows upon the non-producingclass most of the wealth producedby labor is guilty of withholdingfrom the man the bride to whom his industryentitles him. (3) The inabilityto regulate satisfactorily the number ofoffspring is also a potent factor. This,coupled with the superstition againstcopulation during pregnancy and lactation,drives married men out of the hometo seek sexual gratification.
(4) The widespread belief amongmen in the need of sexual exercise as apreservative of health is a strong influencein the promotion of prostitution.The idea of the sexual necessity for menhas been refuted by many students ofthese problems; but those who want tobelieve in it continue in the majority.Still it is not difficult to show that moremen have their health damaged by prostitutesthan have received benefit fromtheir administrations.
(5) Alcohol is the great promoter ofsexual lust. Investigators who havequestioned many men upon this subjecthave found that a large proportion ofthem made their first sexual mistakeswhile under the influence of alcohol.Young men are especially prone to seductionwhen intoxicated. Alcohol inhibitsthe action of the will, benumbs themoral sense, and stimulates the sexualpassions. No other poison plays sostrong a rŰle in the promotion of seximmorality.
(6) The absence of good femininesociety in the circles of youth is a factor.[pg 5]Social contact with high-mindedwomen satisfies the craving for femininesociety and deters young men fromseeking the society of the opposite typeof women. A boy who has friendshipsamong good women is apt to beashamed to go among the lewd.
(7) The unlovable wife encouragesprostitution. She may be sexually unattractiveto the husband because ofdisease, pregnancy, fear of pregnancy,or coldness. The husband may be responsiblefor any or all of thesecauses; but still he patronizes the otherwoman.
III. Of the factors that bear directlyupon the female, the most importantis (1) poverty. It is not onlya primary cause of prostitution, butalso a secondary cause, running into theother social conditions. In the UnitedStates are 6,000,000 women wage-workers,employed in the gainful industries.In New York City are 300,000wage-earning women, living upon thebrink of starvation. The wages whichthey earn scarcely provide them withthe meager necessities of life; of thejoys of life they have but little. Manyof them cannot live upon their wagesand must supplement them from othersources; many have others dependingupon them.
Studies of the problem show thatwages are regulated by the cost of subsistence.Workers are paid as little asthey can exist upon and still be fairlyefficient, capital demanding that the payshall be so near the starvation limit thatthe workers shall live in fear of want.The interests of capital also demandthat there shall at all times be an unemployedclass seeking employment.
Most of the money in this great countrywhich is bequeathed by the wealthyto care for damaged human beings hasbeen wrung from those very same humanbeings who were sacrificed for itsproduction. The curse of capitalisticgreed is a basic factor in the socialevils, and they will exist so long as theright to exploit human beings is toleratedby society.
August Bebel illustrates the relationof prostitution to wages by the reportof the Chief Constable of Bolton, England,showing that the number of youngprostitutes increased more during theEnglish cotton famine, consequent uponthe Civil War in America, than duringthe previous twenty-five years. Readthe pitiful records of the women whowere driven by destitution to sell themselvesas reported in Sanger's "Historyof Prostitution." Of 2000 prostitutesinvestigated in New York, 525 gave destitutionas the cause of their going intothat life. This is the largest numberunder any one cause. But poverty canbe read into the others. "Drink," "seducedand abandoned," "ill-treatmentby parents or husband," "as an easylife," "bad company," "violated," "seducedon emigrant ships," "seduced inemigrant boarding-houses"--thesecover most of the other causes, and allhave poverty and bad economic conditionsat their base.
Whether it is because of lack of employmentor because of the easier meansof livelihood which prostitution offers,the earning of a living is the basic factor.A social condition which insuredevery woman and every man an opportunityto earn a decent living, andwhich segregated and provided for thefew incompetents and moral derelicts,would have no prostitution. Theremight be women who would indulge inpromiscuity or would be licentious, butthey would not be prostitutes.
Rich women are not prostitutes, becausetheir livelihood is assured them.Prostitution is largely an economicproblem. A woman who has been giventhe information which every womanshould have, and who is not pathologic,does not barter her chastity for moneyexcept as a matter of economic expediency.
Edmond Kelly says: "Chastity oughtto be a purely moral or social question,[pg 6]not an economic one." Quoting alsofrom the same source a part of the reportof Miss Woodbridge, secretary ofthe Working Women's Society: "It isa known fact that men's wages cannotfall below a limit upon which they canexist, but women's wages have no limit,since the paths of shame are always opento them. The very fact that some ofthese women receive partial supportfrom brothers or fathers and are thusenabled to live upon less than they earn,forces other women who have no suchsupport either to suffer for necessitiesor seek other means of support."
Out of these conditions grow the lowwages of shop girls and operatives. Buteven though not driven to it by poverty,the girls who leave the factory forprostitution cannot be blamed. Humanautomatons, fastened to whirling wheels,consumed by monotonous, soul-destroyingdays of toil, crawling at nightinto unlovely beds, crawling forthat break of day to toil again, dulland stolid, with hope half smothered--toilingslaves, who would begrudge themnarcosis, death, or prostitution? Thewonder is that there is not a greater degreeof public appreciation of the prostitute-makingconditions, which societyharbors because it foolishly thinks thatit profits by them.
(2) Crowded tenements belong withthe economic factors for only the direstpoverty would compel the acceptanceof the low standard of living whichthey impose. They mean absence oftrue home life, unhygienic conditions,squalor, and lack of privacy. One-thirteenthof the population of New Yorklives at a density of over 600 to theacre. There are one hundred and fiveblocks having a density of over 750 tothe acre. If everybody lived under suchconditions, all the people of the worldcould be accommodated in the state ofDelaware. This is not for lack of land,for it would be possible to have in NewYork City over ten million people witha density of only 50 to the acre. Manyapartments have from three to five occupantsper room. In the Borough ofBrooklyn, New York, there were in1911, 127,000 dark rooms, and 50,000wholly without windows or any otheropening except a door. Poverty causescongestion, and congestion tends to lossof self-respect, to immorality, and tosexual irregularities. The records ofour children's societies show to how appallinga degree the chastity of littlegirls is being sacrificed in the darkhalls and crowded rooms of the tenements.
(3) Child labor is one of the demoralizingproducts of our civilization.There are 2,000,000 children wage-earnersin the United States. Thatmeans children who are denied adequateschooling and free play. They areforced into the mills and factories andtied up to machines. Their minds aredwarfed, their bodies stunted--all for"the hallowed privilege of working fora living." Consult the findings of theU. S. Bureau of Labor, read JohnSpargo's "Bitter Cry of the Child,"peruse the reports of the National Consumers'League and of the NationalChild Labor Committee, and decide ifwe are not creating prostitution out ofthe blood and flesh of children for themoney there is in it. Any conditionwhich makes for moral