Facts I Learned From Vice And Vigilance
The past is horrible
[This post contains discussion of racism, sex negativity, human trafficking, rape, incest, and child sexual abuse.]
If I keep reading books informing me that people in the past fucked in public all the time, at some point I am going to start believing that people in the past fucked in public all the time. Vice and Vigilance alleges that in the 18th century sex workers had sex in shop windows to advertise their services and people had sex in playhouses. Later, diarist James Boswell recorded how much he enjoyed having sex with sex workers in St. James's Park and on Westminster Bride "with the Thames rolling below us.”
From the 1690s to the 1740s, Societies for the Reformation of Manners were non-governmental organizations which arrested sex workers, swearers, drunkards, and Sabbath violators. They primarily arrested people for soliciting on the street, indecent exposure, and sex in public. Their second-largest category of arrests was Sabbath breaking (normally shopkeepers selling food to poor people).
At the time, sexual misconduct wasn’t distinguished from other vices and wasn’t considered particularly bad. The primary danger was irreligion: believing the wrong things or not performing rituals when you were supposed to. It was believed that deism caused prostitution, and people were violent enough that even atheists argued that religion was necessary to keep people from attacking each other constantly.
At the time, the police force consisted of unpaid constables drafted by their local parish. Many Society members were “constables by proxy” who were paid by the drafted constables to do their constabling for them.
Over their fifty years of activity, the Societies were responsible for an average of seven convictions a day, Sundays excluded.
The Societies were very unpopular among the poor, who were fond of drinking, sex work, and having Sunday dinner. Many Society members died in action, beaten to death by angry mobs.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial