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Moral Panic and the Prostitute in Partitioned Poland: Middle-Class Respectability in Defense of the Modern Nation

Keely Stauter-Halsted
Slavic Review
Vol. 68, No. 3 (Fall, 2009), pp. 557-581
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25621657
Page Count: 25
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Moral Panic and the Prostitute in Partitioned Poland: Middle-Class Respectability in Defense of the Modern Nation
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Abstract

In the early twentieth century, police-regulated prostitution experienced a burst of attention from Polish-language news media. In this article, Keely Stauter-Halsted considers the extended moment of "moral panic" that unfolded when a series of public exposés revealed the scope and potential dangers of sex trafficking. Taking into account the ways "respectable" urban audiences absorbed revelations of illicit commercial transactions on city streets and increased "white slavery" activity beyond the Polish lands, Stauter-Halsted stresses the image of the prostitute as a threat to the embattled nation. The figure of the impoverished, morally compromised streetwalker encroaching on bourgeois social spaces and invading the bourgeois home challenged the sense of middle-class respectability so crucial to Polish national regeneration. By exposing innocent members of the community to sexually dangerous behavior, the prostitute came to represent decay, degeneration, and venereal disease attacking the national body, a conclusion used by social purity activists in their protoeugenics campaigns.

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