From the “scandal of prostitution” to the “affront to public decency”

Special Report: Sexual Politics
Police Control and Public Women Administration during the French Revolution
By Clyde Plumauzille

In 1791, being neither mentioned in the Code of Police nor in the Criminal Code, prostitution is de facto decriminalized. Yet, by adopting a scale of analysis that focused on police work, it appears that the prostitution phenomenon becomes an object of attentive reflection and definition of the central police administration under the Directory regime (1795-1799). Its records emphasize the constant vigilance exercised against the “scandal of prostitution” that is particularly stated and denounced in reports on the state of esprit public. As an answer to prostitution decriminalization, this discourse and its ensuing practices develop the outlines of a new framework for action against prostitution. This paper will thus take this police administration’s discourse seriously, account for its normative logics and its practical foundations and analyze its efficiency or inefficiency on the field of policing practices, in order to seize anew revolutionary politics of prostitution.

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