It is generally believed that prostitution has become a focal issue and a major concern during the process of urbanization in 19th century European societies. Prostitution can be defined as the business of engaging sexual activities in exchange for monetary or goods payments. The estimated number of prostitutes in London at the time can be ranging from 6,371 according to the constabulary force to even “reaching 80,000” by the Bishop of Exeter (Acton,1870: p3). This essay will be structured around Dr. William Acton’s book Prostitution, Considered in its Moral, Social, and Sanitary Aspects to discuss the reason of rising in prostitution with urbanization as well as the threats that posed to the state of social progress in contemporary European countries.
The Reason of Rapid Increase of Prostitution with Urbanization
First of all, a series of changes in rising population and developing urban centers inspired individuals to involve in prostitution. According to Acton (1870), one of the most intense effects of the Industrial Revolution that advanced speedily in England between 1750 and 1850 and spread all over the continent after the Napoleonic Wars was to inspire urbanization. In 1801, only about 17% of the entire population stayed in cities while the percentage rose to about 35% in 1851. By the year 1891, urban population in England experienced a noticeable growth to 54% (Acton, 1870). The big cities such as Paris, London, Berlin and Madrid developed dramatically (Roberts, 1992). However, the degree of growth was so hasty that city services could not keep up with the pace (Roberts, 1992). The crowded cities provided the environment for depravity, vice and immorality to spread, urban areas became places where accumulation of sewage, lack of hygiene, high rates of corruption, the high rates of disease, and fraught poverty all existed (Roberts, 1992). To illustrate, Acton (1870) claimed that there was hardly any nation in the globe where prostitutes prevailed to a higher level than England. During the rule of Queen Victoria, there was a new growth in need for the company of prostitutes because of the increasing wealth of business bourgeoisie, and simultaneously a great number of women willing to offer their services (Acton, 1870). The domestic breakdown, obscurity, misogyny of urbanized England, and poverty led more women to involve in prostitution, while the views of sex upheld by men in this period allowed, even encouraged their services (Acton, 1870).
Moreover, the gap of wealth caused by urbanization also contributed to the popularity of prostitution. Acton (1870) claimed that the development of towns increased the vicinity between the rich and the poor, which was essential for this industry to flourish. Urbanization in the 19th century brought former agricultural employees into big urban centers where they had to deal with the alienation and anonymity of working-class occupations (Acton, 1870). Additionally, they went through a...