Scribal Seductions: Streetwalkers and Nightwatchman in 1790s Mexico City

Friday, January 5, 2018: 3:30 PM
Madison Room A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Nicole von Germeten, Oregon State University
Because street level policing and record keeping increased in the late eighteenth century, the plebeian streetwalkers introduced in this paper seduce historians with scribal suggestions of their sexual entrepreneurialism. However, these women succeed in evading both our efforts to retell their experiences and the growing surveillance in their own era. Since Spanish legislation did not clearly define the regulation of prostitution, nor decriminalize it entirely, only the new nightwatchmen had the ability to control the judicial treatment of prostitutes. This unspecified toleration placed a great deal of power in the hands of the possibly unmotivated patrolmen. If law enforcement detected a woman soliciting sex publicly, the guards in effect made a personal choice each time they either arrested her or let her remain working in public. The patrols might even pass their time on duty in tolerated brothels or talking to street solicitors. Law enforcement officials arrested women whom they encountered having sex or soliciting sexual transactions in public places, including the streets and pulquerías. The problem with their behavior was its public nature, its obvious gross physicality that shamed the reformed Bourbon streets, not the transaction involved. Scribes reinforced the evasiveness of this personalized policing by their vague, abbreviated entries in the police dockets. All of these prevarications served the interest of the arrested women by avoiding a recorded label that marked her immorality.
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