Report of the Vice Commission, Louisville, Kentucky (1915)

Why Evil Should be Combated

Commercialized prostitution should be combated, not only because it constitutes the most cancerous growth on a community, but because of its direful results; because it stalks broadcast through the land, reaping its harvest of guilty and innocent alike, leaving in its serpentine trail thousands upon thousands of cases of paralysis, blindness, idiocy, insanity and unspeakable physical and moral degeneracy. Couple with all this, the degradation of womanhood, the greed and passion of men arising therefrom, and you have a duty presented to you as plain and clear as the noonday sun.

We are convinced that prostitution cannot be obliterated. We are convinced that prostitution in all of its phases cannot be completely suppressed. Generations of education and better thought will be required to even apparently obtain its total abolition. In our judgment, only slow, determined repression, together with moral and physical education, can furnish for the present the remedy which now appears most practical.

Commercialized Aspect

We are convinced, however, that an end can be put, within a reasonable time, to the most malignant manifestations of prostitution. We are convinced that by a slow, progressive, determined, earnest campaign the power lies within the officials of the city to greatly reduce the commercialized aspect of prostitution. We believe there are in Louisville sufficient open-minded, forward-thinking people to champion a campaign to arouse a public conscience, to give to the community an unvarnished statement of existing facts and to create such attitude as will incite rebellion toward the evil, and control to the greatest possible degree.

Everybody's Problem

Officials of the city can act, and we believe they will. Regulations can be made, and will be made. The police can be made to do their full duty, and we believe they will do their full duty. But all of this is of little lasting avail unless the intelligent, public-spirited portion of the community assumes an active and progressive attitude toward the evil. People in all branches of life-the doctor, the lawyer, the clergyman, the tradesman, the laborer, the public official, the social worker, men and women in every phase, either of public or private activity-should learn to consider the question of commercialized vice as a problem and responsibility which is their own. There must be uniformity and solidity of opinion on the part of all thinking people. There must find root in the mind of the public an attitude different from that which has heretofore prevailed. There must be engendered a spirit of hope, an idea of belief in the possibility of achieving the cherished end. . . .

Every Woman Would be Decent

We have been pleased to start with the assumption, and, regardless of inquiry which may have persuaded us to the contrary, we continue to assume, that every woman seeks to lead a decent, respectable life, and shuns unnatural sexual immorality. It is simple to cast aside and avoid a fallen woman, but we have been unable to trace a single case, either in the city of Louisville or in other places, where that poor, unfortunate creature has not been brought to the position in which she finds herself through the misuse, abuse or dissipation of some man even lower than herself. It is well for men to talk of economic pressure upon women, of their isolation or loneliness, of the lure of the streets, leading to bad company and unwholesome companionship, but in the end it will be found that the lonesomeness has been impressed upon her by some degraded man; that the lure of the street has been painted lurid by some degraded man; that economic pressure would not have brought home to her mind so forcibly had it not been for some degraded man.

The Need for Women

The great need, to our notion, is the establishing of such institutions and such means of gratifying social and economic needs of young girls as will be conducive to their leading a wholesome and respectable life. We should throw around the girl those protective influences which will enable her to reinforce the natural instincts which every woman has to be respectable. Even in cases where the woman has fallen, this community, like all other communities, all too frequently, through the attitude of its public mind, makes hard the road back to moral strength. In another section of this report recommendation is made for the establishment of an institution for the training, direction and education of such girls who, at a tender age, are made the victims of immorality, thereby furnishing an opportunity long neglected to start them upon the right road by teaching a means of decent livelihood through trade or otherwise. . . .

The Business of Life

[W]ith development of twentieth century invention; with the commercialization of almost every phase of human interest; with means of quick transportation at hand; with the invention of the telephone and the telegraph, the moving picture, the phonograph, modern drama and a thousand other things of convenience and amusement, the old order of things has changed. The hours of labor are shorter. Opportunity for recreation is greater; and the commercialization of human interest has brought people to the condition where the main business of life is the seeking of pleasure. This condition has been productive in an increase of immorality among women. The modern-day craze for pleasure has made easy and has accentuated the opportunity for women to be exploited. However, the pendulum never swings in one direction that it does not swing back again. Just as the search for pleasure has risen high, just as the ease of entering and practicing a life of immorality has risen to a dangerous pitch of profit and ease, just so there will be a recession; just so public sentiment expressed against such practices will swing back and down, suppressing and controlling that which the toleration of years, that which thoughtlessness on the part of the community had caused to be recognized as a concomitant necessary ailment of modern-day life.