The Nation says that the solution to the problem of prostitution is regulation.
In response to a resolution offered in the Assembly, “that the Board of Metropolitan Health Commissioners and the Metropolitan Board of Police be requested to communicate to the House, at their earliest convenience, their opinion as to the necessity and probable result of legislation looking to the more thorough restriction of prostitution in the city of New York,” the Sanitary Committee, which is composed of three honest, able, and experienced physicians, have reported in favor of such legislation as is resorted to in the great cities of continental Europe, where they say it has been found necessary for the control of those by whom the evil is encouraged and sustained. The report is sensible and temperate. It deals in no extravagances, preaches no high moralities, leaves sentiment to those whose duty is to deepen and purify it, and very properly confines its attention to the measures by which society, acting through laws and public officials, may restrain the evil within certain well-defined limits, may keep it under police and medical inspection, and may diminish to some extent its disastrous effects on the health and, indirectly, on the order and peace of the community. The committee justly regard the evil as a fact, whose permanent removal or even essential reduction is not in question, the causes of which lie in voracious and permanent appetites which do not materially change in their character or their vehemence, and which will, under one form or another, have their way. It does not appear that the magnitude of the evil varies much in different years, though it certainly varies in different climates and in different communities. It would not be difficult, probably, to determine the conditions of its increase or decrease at any particular time or place. Its existence is at least as old as civilization, and, so far as we can see, will be as long-lived as civilization under its actual forms. It is to be reckoned among the fixed causes of mischief in society, and it is as such that it is to be dealt with.
All attempts at the sudden eradication of such an evil must, therefore, be fruitless. Its causes cannot be reached by any agencies at our command. Nothing less than the moral regeneration of individual men and women will go deep enough to touch its roots. And the moral regeneration of men and women is a thing to be prayed for, hoped for, labored for; but it is not a thing to be assumed or reckoned on for immediate effect. Ages hence, centuries on centuries hence, when knowledge, refinement, culture, religion shall have produced an amount of respect for personal character, for the laws of health and happiness, for the mutual rights and dignities of persons, for standards of purity undreamed of now, the roots of this hideous vice may die from lack of nourishment. At present little or nothing is doing to effect such a result.
The attempt to suppress the evil would be as fruitless as the efforts to extirpate it. Were all the officinas of lust closed to-morrow, the houses of assignation and prostitution, the dance-houses and concert-saloons, the “bar-houses” and “parlor-houses,” lust would still burn, the purveyors of lust would still find means for plying their infamous trade, still the victims of lust would die and spread pollution all around them. There is reason for thinking that, as things are, many of these resorts escape the vigilance of the police. Superintendent Kennedy gives the whole number of public prostitutes in New York as 2,574; the number of houses and saloons as 697. But another authority, more familiar it may be presumed with the facts, because concerned professionally with the interests of the traffic, gives the number of houses as 773, at the least. The number of inmates of “parlor houses” and “bar-houses” alone he estimates at 4,600; the “street-walkers” are set down at 6,000; and the total of criminal women at not less than 12,000. It is difficult to understand how such an immense discrepancy in statistics could exist between recognized authorities, and we are inclined to believe that the latter statement is perhaps exaggerated and the former incomplete. Still, making all possible allowance for exaggeration on the one side and for incompleteness on the other, we are constrained to think that the evil succeeds already in eluding to some extent the scrutiny of the police. The extent to which it might elude it, therefore, is quite incalculable. There is great reason for supposing that it would flourish in spite of the most strenuous efforts at suppression, retiring into deeper and deeper shadow as it was pursued, and becoming more virulent and deadly the more secret it became.