Punishment for Running a Brothel

“You can make it illegal, but you can’t make it unpopular”

Does the crime outweigh the punishment? In 1918 New Orleans running an immoral house just might. Two separate immoral houses were busted November 22, 1918 and the operators plead guilty accepting the their awaited punishments. Anthony Vaccaro was sentenced to ten days in the House of Detention, and Adele Hansley, thirty days at the Amproleague Farm. To an outsider, these punishments may seem lax, but just a year before these sentences, prostitution was legal within a certain locale.

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Storyville, New Orleans was one of the most renown red-light districts in America at the time. New Orleans had always donned the “party city” facade and Storyville only legalized their antics. It was shut down midnight on November 12th, 1917 by Martin Behrman who was the mayor at the time and under the pressure of both the Army and Navy. During this time troops were mobilizing to go overseas to fight in World War I, the US Navy, prohibited soldiers from frequenting prostitutes, on the basis of public health, prohibited prostitution with a certain radius of Naval bases. This was because there was a large push at the beginning of the 20th century by the American Sexual Health Association to prevent venereal disease especially amongst soldiers because they were supposed to be role models. On top of the health concern, four soldiers were also killed in the Storyville district within weeks of one another, which caused the military to put enough pressure on the city to shut down Storyville. The Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker said, “These boys are going to France. I want them adequately armed and clothed by their government; but I want them to have an invisible armor to take with them… a moral and intellectual armor for their protection overseas.”

storyville-whorehouse-bedroom.jpgProstitution was not the only thing that the military disliked about Storyville, the nonsegregated aspect of Storyville also bothered the US Military; blacks and whites could operate under the same brothel. The military was aided once again by the campaigns of the American Sexual Health Association, in implemented a national program to close brothels close to Army training camps especially those which were not segregated. Many owners of brothels got around the segregation laws by saying that workers in their houses were octoroons (one-eighth black). The evolving social structure imposed by Jim Crow, forced newly arrived African Americans, moving from plantations, into the same social and racial category as French-speaking Afro-Creoles.

People who got caught in the sex work industry once it became illegal were not typically given harsh punishment, if they were women, especially if they were white. The government in order to prevent sending these women to jail with criminals, the American Protective League at New Orleans engaged in the enterprise earlier referred to as Amproleague Farm. Here they would work on their mental and physical health.

Today in the city where “everything goes” prostitution laws are still significantly lax. A First Conviction offense is a fine of not more than 500 dollars or be imprisoned for not more than six months, or both. Promoting prostitution is the knowing and willful control of, supervision of, or management of an enterprise for profit in which customers are charged a fee for services which include prostitution this is a fine not more than 5,000 dollars or imprisoned with or without hard labor for not more than two years, or both.