White Slavery Panics
History of Term and its relationship to the
Link to moral reformers and Victorian
How real was the early 20th century traffic
Who was most concerned about them?
White Slavery and Immigration
Fears of white slavery coincided with periods of
massive immigration from Europe to the new world as
well as to Asia, Africa, and the Middle East
Panic focused on women traveling alone. Who would
take care of them? What if they married or had sex
with men of other nationalities or races?
Became embedded with the language of nationalism
Caused Europeans to think about the implications of
immigration, citizenship, and nationality
White Slavery and Legalized
After Great Britain ended its regulation of prostitution
in port cities, rumors began to spread that British
women were trapped in continental bordellos or in
foreign countries that had legalized prostitution
Almost all Catholic countries and a number of
Protestant countries permitted prostitution, and even
Great Britain allowed prostitution in its colonies if not
The two world wars caused nations to collapse and
reform. Who would protect the women once their
nationalities were in question?
The League of Nations and White
After World War I, the League of Nations was created to deal with
post-war problems (US did not join)
Predecessor to the United Nations
In the 1920s, the League created a commission initially to
investigate claims of white slavery in Latin America, but by the time
its report was published in 1927, the report examined both the
countries exporting women as well as those with legal houses of
After that report was published, a number of reports were written
about the rehabilitation of prostitutes, and the spread of prostitution
into the Pacific regions.
The Problems of Reports
They could only be compiled reliably by cities with
legalized prostitution, or by police with active anti-
prostitution campaigns—these sources were biased.
One tended to report only registered prostitutes, and
the other depended on police estimates.
Public health officials could also estimate, but none of
their figures were reliable
Were all people who had VD prostitutes? Could they
be transmitted in any other way?
Once women were identified as prostitutes, what
would happen to them?
What were the underlying causes of prostitution?
Causes of Prostitution
Economic explanations: high costs of living, but few decent
jobs for women
Men abandoned families and women had to support children
Males-fathers, husbands, often force women to engage in
Young women in urban areas seeking economic and sexual
independence in dance halls and bars
Notions of virginity clashed with reality of rape and pre-
Single mothers often lost their jobs, particularly as domestic
servants or factory workers
The double standard that tolerated a male demand for sexual
gratification while it stigmatized the women who provided it.
The rise of drug addiction
Solutions to Prostitution
Better jobs for women
Increased pressure on fathers to support their children
Reshaping family attitudes about patriarchy
Reforming the double standard
Acknowledging women’s right to engage in sex work
The 21st century Traffic in Women
Often involves women in Latin America, Southeast
Partly linked to political instability—
– Women taken as sex prisoners during war like the
Comfort women during World War II.
– Women in refugee camps need to support their families
Partly linked to women’s need to obey male relatives
– Particularly true in Asia
– If they are turned out of their work in bordellos, they
cannot return as honorable women to their families
Partly linked to sex tourism and the desire of American
and European men to have sex with foreign women