Prostitution is known as the oldest profession in the world. It has been recorded vastly throughout history, dating as back as the Ancient Near East. Data gathered by historians evidences how there were multiple temples which were dedicated to different gods and goddesses.
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In these places, sacred prostitution occurred regularly. Throughout most of modern history, the practice of prostitution is commonly perceived as a taboo subject as it is surrounded by stigmatization. Countries around the globe, in the past, have attempted to eradicate the practice by marginalizing and criminalizing those whom are sex workers. Throughout the nineteenth century prostitution in Italy faced a tumultuous path, with laws in its favor and laws against it. Several people in high power positions shunned prostitution and thought of it as a crime and, therefore, treated as one; Meanwhile, other leaders agreed that the best solution to contain it was to legally regulate it.
In the early nineteenth century, prostitution was prohibited in Rome by Pope Pius IX, who deemed it a sin and, consequently, a crime. The act of committing this immorality was punishable in a brutal manner: such as imprisonment, fines, torture and various types of harassment but, the way the authorities enforced the regulation was labeled inconsistent and ineffective. Despite the active efforts of eradicating the sex trade, women still publicly continued their services in street corners and in brothels in Rome. Other cities, such as Palermo, enforced laws inspired by the regulation the French had implemented. In Palermo, the license of toleration was carried out; this required prostitutes to receive medical examinations for any venereal disease. This regulation failed as well, given that various health officials and policemen would turn a blind eye to the rising numbers of unapproved prostitutes. Infected prostitutes were sent to special hospitals, that were inefficient when containing the diseases.
The spread of venereal diseases was a fear, among the Italian society, that spread like wildfire. Prostitutes represented a symbol in the Italian middle-high class society that overlapped with several marginal groups-the idle poor, the criminal, the sexual deviant, and the woman-in one figure. Women were oppressed even if they came from rich backgrounds, but when a woman did not fit the criteria of daughter, mother, or wife they were shunned. Given that prostitutes were usually promiscuous and single they were even more excluded. Italy’s society believed that not only were prostitutes part of the lowest ranks in society but, they had close relationships to criminals, which inadvertently made them criminals as well. One of the reasons why prostitutes were marginalized and compared to the lowest of society was because nineteenth century individuals condemned extramarital sex. This was represented in the period’s literature, which in turn classified them as sexual deviants.
All previous efforts of containing the spread of venereal diseases failed. Therefore when Camillo Benso di Cavour (the first Prime Minister of the kingdom of Italy) he implemented what is known as the Cavour Law in 1860. Cavour legalized prostitution with strict controls. To protect the Italian people he established laws that demanded that prostitutes individually register with the police, receive medical examinations twice a week, and check into Health Offices or special hospitasl, the sifilicomi, if infected. There legal status was altered from criminals to deviants. The regulation that was implemented insured that prostitutes would have freedom from the criminal world to a certain extent. The supporters of regulations believed that brothels harbored violence and crime. Therefore to separate these two ideas they banned any sort of entertainment that involved drinking. Also, police had the power to conduct random inspections of the brothels; this way any criminal could be apprehended easily. The Cavour Law also required the owners of brothels to pay for many of the prostitutes necessities: clothes, linen and their examinations.
Although the regulation highlighted that its laws were to protect the italian people and prostitutes, most of the laws were extremely oppressive and degrading. Prostitutes had several rules they had to follow, the inability to follow them could get them incarcerated. Some of the strict laws were that they must not be seen through the windows of their closed houses, they must not solicit in public areas, they needed to have a valid reason to be outside of their brothel during the night, among other laws. One of the laws that was considered the most humiliating was vaginal examination; even though they were for medical purpose, it was considered an invasion of privacy and extremely degrading.
Both regulationists and abolitionists believed in the modesty of a woman representing their personal dignity, the honor of the family, and the moral poetry of the nation. Abolitionists was a group of individuals who rose from the movement which opposed the Cavour regulation. Their wish was to abolish regulation and, instead, decriminalize the private act of prostitution. This new movement created challenges for the previously established Cavour regulation. The abolitionists believed that the fundamental ideal when forming a legislation was freedom. They quickly rejected the regulation’s oppressive nature and demanded change.
In 1876, the parliament of Italy changed from a Liberal Right into a Left. Abolitionists expected a expeditious legislative reform but, this reform came bit by bit through the approval of laws that altered, not repealed, the original regulation. The first step to reform came in 1888 this was named the Crispi Regulation. It remained similar to the Cavour Regulation, changing laws in order to decrease the control policemen and doctors had over prostitutes. One of the most important sections of this regulation was the abolition of the Health Offices and sifilicomi. With this new law, the authorities could no longer force prostitutes to undergo vaginal examinations, infected women had to admit themselves voluntarily. The government promised to establish new clinics that would serve both female and male patients for venereal diseases. This signaled a change in the perception as now they did not believe that prostitutes were the only source of the disease, all italian population were considered possible carriers
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