School of Historical and Philosophical Studies - Theses

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    Prostitution and the state in Victoria, 1890-1914
    Arnot, Margaret ( 1986)
    The later decades of the nineteenth and the early decades of the twentieth centuries were marked by considerable change in Victorian society. Rapid urban expansion and industrialization were among the most profound of these developments. They resulted in increasing problems of urban over-crowding, poverty, sanitation and, despite the youth of the cities, decay. Those in power began to see these urban problems as being partly related to the nature of working-class life, so sought to control aspects of working-class culture to an unprecedented degree. During this period, legislation relating to liquor, tobacco, drugs, and gambling, for example, were brought into effect for the first time or became more intrusive. Street life was becoming increasingly regulated. In 1891, for example, amendments to the Victorian Police Offences Act made important changes to the social construction of anti-social behaviour and placed increased power in the hands of the police and legal institutions to control the behaviour of individuals in public places. As part of this development, soliciting prostitution was made an offence for the first time. Women, too, had become subversive. Feminists demanded the vote, increased educational opportunities and threatened the established power differential between the sexes. At the same time, legislation was being passed and medical practices were emerging which increasingly impinged upon women's bodies and upon the areas of women's traditional power - life itself and child life. Kerreen Reiger has traced the increasing attempts to professionalize and rationalize family life, resulting in greater intrusion into the lives of women in relation to childbirth and motherhood.' Increasing attempts to control prostitution in Australia date from this same period, and can be seen as part of these processes. It was from the 1860s that an edifice of laws was constructed. Firstly, legislators were concerned with how women were forced into prostitution (procuring), the relationships between women working in prostitution and their children, and the spread of venereal disease. Later, from the 1890s, there was a new spate of legislation related to soliciting, the ownership and management of brothels, procuring, and living on the earnings of prostitution. During the same period a centralized, bureaucratized police force, which was crucially involved in the increasing control of prostitution, was established in Victoria. The prison system, too, became more organized and intrusive. By the later part of this period the move toward greater state intrusion into the area of prostitution was clear; the years 1890 to 1914 have been chosen for detailed study. This period was marked at the beginning by important new amendments to the Police Offences and Crimes Acts in 1891 and at the end by the advent of the First World War, which created new contexts and problems. (From Introduction)