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The sale of sex for money, predominantly by females with male clients, has always been affected by cultural values. Brothels first sprang up in Southwark where Roman soldiers guarded the Thames crossing, to develop into the Bankside stews that were regulated by Henry II (1162); the church took a pragmatic view since the revenue was highly profitable. With the Reformation, moral rather than health concerns began to prevail, so prostitutes were publicly humiliated and imprisoned for ‘correction’. Puritanism merely hardened existing attitudes. During the 19th cent. governments made efforts to regulate the practice, particularly around naval and military garrisons (a third of all sick cases among soldiers were venereal in origin by 1864). Female prostitutes were subject to humiliation and callous treatment under the Contagious Diseases Acts of the 1860s, only repealed in 1886 after the campaigns of Josephine Butler. Female prostitution is now legally tolerated, though with prohibition of open solicitation, but young women are still forced into the practice by poverty or homelessness. Homosexual male prostitution, particularly in large cities, is increasing.

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