The State Regulation of Vice
September 29, 1876 — Meeting of Ladies in the Friends’ Meeting House, Hull, England
There are two persons engaged in the sin of impurity — man and woman. Now it is evident, that so long as the vices of men are unchecked, it is almost hopeless work to raise up the fallen victims of those vices. For every woman you withdraw from that gulf, another will be dragged into it, because you have made no effort to lessen the demand for these victims.
Let us be wise then! let us be courageous; and putting our trust in God, let us dare to look at this question in its widest aspect, and to sound it to its depths. Now, it may have been difficult for you to appeal to individual men who are impure, as you do to women; you do not quite see your way towards purifying the male society around you. But Providence has now in the most marked manner opened the door for us, and given us the means of attacking this greatest of evils on the other side also — that is, on the male side. Providence has marvellously prepared the way & put weapons in our hands. The great enemy of mankind, in achieving what appeared to be the greatest triumph in regard to this evil, has placed himself in such a position that he can be openly attacked, fought against by men, and by women, and by an organised assault. I refer to the establishment of official and legal prostitution, and to the organised assault which we are called upon to make against it. In joining in this assault you are not required to go about among men talking on this subject: you are required to combine in a great organisation to demand collectively of governments that they shall destroy this foul institution; you are required to labour individually as members of a great organization for the destruction of this legalised crime against God and society.
Now, let me point out to you a fact which is of the deepest significance. It is this — that so long as we women work for the personal reclamation and rescue of fallen women, men of ordinary character applaud, as well as good men. Even vicious men will speak approvingly; you will meet with no opposition on the part of men; mark me! you meet with no opposition. But when you begin to demand and to labour for the abolition of the Institution of prostitution, the scene changes; opposition arises, bitterness, even hatred and rage are aroused; the nearer we approach to success, the more our determination is understood in this attack on the Institution, the more does opposition increase. The opposition also organises itself, and at last, it even dares to proclaim aloud its principle of action. Thus open waris declared, without which the hope of victory would be still far off.
Now, why is it, that in the one case, you meet with no opposition on the part of unprincipled men, and that in the other case you do meet with firm opposition, & a violent outcry? I will tell you. Evil men know that so long as you merely reclaim individual women from this miserable fate, you do no harm to their own position, or to the institution of prostitution, which they profess to believe a social necessity; they know full well that by working as hard as you choose to save some of the female victims you do not in any appreciable degree decrease the number of these victims. Bad men can well afford to smile at your efforts, and grant you permission in peace to amuse yourself by saving fallen women! for by so doing, you do not touch their comfort or interfere with their cupidity and their licentious indulgence! They know well that for every dozen of poor women you save, they can easily obtain a dozen to take their place. They can easily do this, so long as the great official organisation of prostitution exists with its diabolical machinery for procuring victims as rapidly as they are required. Hence it is that you do not meet with public opposition in your work of rescuing fallen women — but that you are, the rather, smiled upon by men, and let alone by the slave owners and dealers, and the profligates who profit by the slaves, and who are content that you should save even hundreds of the slaves so long as they can procure hundreds more in their place. But once we begin to demand that prostitution shall cease to be regulated and guaranteed officially, then, as I have said, the scene changes. All the cupidity, all the lust, all the materialism and cynicism of the age rise up against us. These facts prove, beyond all doubt, that in striking at official prostitution we have struck at the vital part of this monster evil; we have dealt a blow at the heart and conscience of every vicious man, and of the State itself which is composed of individuals, with hearts and consciences. This awakened enmity and bitter opposition are the most hopeful of all signs — the sure mark that we are doing God’s work, and that Satan is in great alarm, because the stronghold of his hateful kingdom is assailed.
Then, observe, that in this war against the legal institution of vice our progress is, and must be, in one certain direction — namely, the direction of a national awakening. A few committees, or a large organisation indeed may ask for the abolition of legal vice, but it will not obtain it at once: Governments and States and official persons laugh to scorn our demand. Therefore we proceed further, guided by God: or we are gently forced rather by God’s guidance, to appeal to the masses of the people, to society, to the conscience of the nation, of the world. We do this, and we arouse by degrees the conscience of the world, while acting with a definite purpose and for a given reason — that is, the abolition of legal prostitution. But mark me! in aiming at this definite end, we, as God’s agents and instruments, have attained a far wider, greater, deeper and nobler end — namely, a revival of morality, an awakening of the conscience of the people, a conviction that vice is not necessary, and a desire for purer manners and juster laws. God is leading us on. We only follow his guidance, and we see that this war against official prostitution is leading to a vast awakening of the conscience of this generation throughout the world, which will, as its natural result, bring about, not only the overthrow of official prostitution, but the establishment of a purer moral life, based on a more righteous theory of life. The time is coming when no one will dare to say that prostitution is a necessity. If any one asks now: “Why should women undertake to deal with such a subject?” we reply, that it were a sin and a shame to play the coward and shut our eyes. We read in the Bible that women followed our Saviour in his most profound degradation, when he was conducted as a malefactor to suffer inexpressible tortures and an ignominious death, outside the walls of Jerusalem. The women were distinguished by their devotion to Him. Despising the shame, and over-coming their natural feelings, they forced themselves to be witnesses of all His agony, though their hearts shuddered with horror. Women were the first at the sepulchre, and it was women who were honoured with His first words of affection, and to whom He confided His message of love for His weeping disciples. In our day the Son of God is crucified afresh by the open and audacious contempt of His holy law of purity and of pity. And shall we, women, abandon Him at such a moment? Shall we turn our back and pass by? No, assuredly. Let us rather accept the shame and sorrow, and continue weeping on our way; we shall experience, as some of us have already done, that there is a joy and a peace in the work which far surpasses the shame and the sorrow.
Source: Edinburgh Ladies’ Association, 1876.