Les Femmes Dangereuses

Policing Prostitution in the 19th Century

"The Policeman was the most powerful person in the prostitute's life, much more powerful than the king; yet, unlike the king, who could be vilified only from afar, the policeman was touchable."(Policing (Harsin, 30)

No law was ever passed on Prostitution in the 19th Century in France. However, the public outcry was so great, police tried to control it with different tactics and "rules".

Below is a summation of "rules" for prostitutes first implemented in 1810:

1. " every prostitute was required to register with the police which brought authorization to conduct her illegal trade in a relatively unhampered manner" (Harsin, page 39 )

2. " In return she had to submit to regular medical examinations for venereal disease" (Harsin, page39)

3." The prostitute was arrested if she broke a regulation or did not appear for a medical examination, or caused a disturbance" (Harsin, page 39)

4. The prostitute was considered "outside the law" and thus was led away from judicial track to the Morals Brigade whom usually sentenced the prostitutes to a stay in the Petite Force prison where some 400 prostitutes were incarcerated.

Who were the people who kept track of all these rules and made sure they were obeyed?

Answer: The Morals Brigade. A section of the Paris police devoted entirely towards policing prostitution, was set up in the early 19th century.

"Virtuous women have nothing to fear from the morals police."--Chief of the Brigade des Moeurs(1879)

The brigade was charged with bad operation when agents began to pick up young working women indiscriminately to fill thier daily quota of arrests. Some credence was given to this charge when the Morals Brigade picked up a well-known actress.

As the number of prostitutes continued to grow, so did the number of rules as police found it increasingly hard to remain aloof from prostitution as a business and society's need for control. Moving on into the 20th century, prostitution became a peripheral issue, and took a back seat to others. Police once believed that they were cleansing Paris with thier arrests and incarcerations of prostitutes but once they stopped believing in thier process, that meant the death of the Morals Brigade.