Prostitution in German History

Victory Harris’ new study Selling Sex in the Reich. Prostitutes in German Society, 1914-1945 focuses on the the voices and experiences of the prostitutes themselves and identifies a remarkable consistency in the development of public attitudes to prostitution, from Wilhelmine Germany, through the Weimar years and into the Third Reich:

Selling Sex in the Reich focuses on the voices and experiences of prostitutes working in the German sex trade in the first half of the twentieth century. Victoria Harris develops a nuanced picture of the prostitutes’ backgrounds, their reasons for entering the trade, and their attitudes towards their work and those who sought to control them, as well as of their clients and the wide variety of other players within the wider prostitute milieu. Public responses to the issue of prostitution are revealed through the motivations of the law enforcement agencies, social workers, and doctors who increasingly attempted to manage and contain prostitutes’ movements and behaviour and to scientifically categorize them as a group.

Prostitution can help recast our understanding of sexuality and ethics, teaching us much about how German society defined itself through its definition of who did not belong within it. In addition, common conceptions of the relationship between the type of government in power and official attitudes towards sexuality are challenged. For, as Harris shows, the prevalent desire to control citizens’ sexuality transcended traditional left-right divides throughout this period and intensified with economic and political modernization, producing surprising continuities across the Wilhelmine, Weimar, and Nazi eras.’

The book has won the Women’s History Book Prize 2011 and was highly
commended for the Longman/History Today Book Prize. It has been reviewed in Historische Zeitschrift, 293 (2011), 2, p. 552.

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