From 1861 onwards, business began to boom in undreamt of proportions – the war was once again, if not the father of all things, the catalyst for prostitution and the spread of gonorrhoea and syphilis among the hundreds of thousands who wore blue or grey uniforms. During the American Civil War (1861 to 1865), mobile brothels not only followed the armies of North and South, but many cities were given red light districts of undreamed-of dimensions. It became extreme in the frontline city of Washington, where tens of thousands of soldiers were stationed. The commanding general of the Union troops in the city, Joseph Hooker, endeavoured to confine the trade to a defined area. In the Murder Bay borough, a quarter of the sin was created, which became known as Hooker’s Division. For the General, it must have been hard to bear throughout his life that since that time a whore has been called “hooker” in the American language, a legacy of “Fighting Joe Hooker”, which (although some linguists doubt the origin of the word) is more closely linked to his name than his merits on the battlefield.
The conquest of the West, the flourishing of cities and settlements due to the gold rush and railway construction, led to a further economic flourishing of prostitution after the civil war. The surplus of men in California, Nevada or Montana was striking, and a demographic ratio of 9 men per woman was not unusual. In addition to the prosperity, the pioneering period brought the ladies of the trade a not inconsiderable social prestige. They were regarded as one of the factors that allowed American civilization to gain a foothold in the Far West.
The standards of the Wild West
The 20th century should be a step backwards in this respect. Prostitution was increasingly criminalised and in the 1920s was a violation of the law almost everywhere, just like alcohol consumption – with the difference that while prohibition was lifted in 1933, prostitution remained prohibited. Only one member state with a wealth of experience during its pioneering days, a good century ago, was able to escape: Nevada, during the “Wild West” an El Dorado for gold diggers, cowboys and even whores, legalised prostitution in 1970, albeit under certain conditions. On the one hand, it must take place exclusively in defined houses, “brothels”, and on the other hand, it is only permitted in counties with less than 300,000 inhabitants (this limit has been raised on various occasions due to Nevada’s population growth and now stands at 400,000). The big cities such as Reno and Las Vegas were supposed to be kept free of brothels in this way, but the counties with such establishments can be reached by car in less than an hour. About 30 brothels exist in Nevada, whose owners are united in a professional association, the “Nevada Brothel Association”. The annual turnover of the “brothels” is estimated at 35 million dollars a year, 80 percent of which is generated in those rural counties that are relatively close to Reno or Las Vegas. – The standards of the Wild West still apply here: The whorehouses must be located far enough away from the homes of “decent families” and some of them may not employ men as in the old days, just as in the pioneering days the management was always in the hands of a madam. This regulation is intended to prevent pimps from gaining a foothold in Nevada and to prevent male employees from receiving sexual benefits as part of their salaries.
In all other parts of the country, prostitutes and their customers are subject to criminal prosecution. The police forces are attacking the industry with varying degrees of energy from region to region, but the result is similar everywhere: business is interrupted at best, never really stopped. Around 90,000 arrests for prostitution are made every year, plus an unreported number of arrests for public nuisance and similar offences. The cost to the state is estimated to be around 180 million dollars annually; it was this amount of money for police officers and courts that Dr. Elders wanted to see more sensibly invested. Of those arrested, approximately 70 percent are women, 20 percent are male prostitutes, and 10 percent are customers. Very few are detained for long periods, especially consumers.