The Contagious Diseases Acts and The Prostitute: How Disease and the Law Controlled The Female Body

Kimeya Baker


In this article, I examine the representation of prostitutes in the law, beginning with the Contagious Diseases Acts. These construct the female prostitute in a way that reflects Victorian sexual morality and gender expectations. I go on to explore how subsequent legal representations create complex discourses of
prostitution in which the prostitute body is held as the site of the prostitute's sexual power, exploring Foucauldian theories of constructed sexuality and the use of disciplinary apparatus. I focus on the most significant legal changes in the regulation of prostitution since 1869, and whether there are any remnants of the prejudices and views inherent in the Contagious Diseases Acts in legislation today. I argue that the current law remains unsatisfactory in regards to protecting the welfare of the prostitute and her right to the same protection and liberties as others, and explore the alternative approaches that the legislation may take. I contend that the criminalisation of prostitution does nothing to improve the situation; in fact, it only serves to maintain social stigma attached to the prostitute and ensures that she continues to be treated as a lower class citizen.

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