Carrie Chapman Catt

The Traffic in Women - 1899

Carrie Chapman Catt
January 01, 1899
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A few weeks ago, the police of San Francisco made a raid upon a Chinese resort and captured three Chinese slave girls who had been imprisoned in the place after having been smuggled into the City from a Pacific Mail Steamer a month previous. These girls by some unaccountable means have been successfully passed by Federal officers, bundled into a taxi cab, and carried to this resort where they had been forcibly detained and compelled to immorality. A fellow Chinese had a grudge against the keeper of the "joint" and got even by giving the clue to the police. Had this not happened the girls would still be there. The place was found to be a veritable "Chinese puzzle" of secret panels, crooked passages, and mysterious trap doors. The trembling girls were found crouched in a comer of a room which was entered by a ladder through a trap door in the floor, the ladder having been drawn up and the trap door closed. The police were about to give up the search when they discovered a secret panel which led into a passage where a trap door led through another passage into an airless attic where the three slaves were hidden.

This is no isolated horror. It is only one more burst of smoke which reveals the fire of crime against women common to all parts of the world. Women have been bought and sold into slavery for the purpose of prostitution ever since the earliest days of authentic history. Thousands of Asiatic girls are captured or bought every year to supply the ever increasing demands of commercialized sex vice. Japanese and Chinese girls have been smuggled into the United States continually since the exclusion acts made such immigrants unlawful, and before that date they were brought to American ports openly. They are slaves as certainly as were the Negroes before the Civil War. Their masters having bought them for money at sales which in their own lands are perfectly legal. These Asiatic women, Chinese and Japanese especially, are to be found all over the globe. The crowded population, the low regard for women, the poverty of the people all combine to produce an unlimited supply of girls who can be bought from fathers and guardians or captured outright. The American, reflecting upon these well known facts, is apt to jump to the self righteous conclusion, that this international traffic in Asiatic women is only one more evidence that Asia is only semi-civilized. Heathen Asia, he ejaculates and dismisses the subject with a shrug on the shoulders.

Whether a traffic in slave women has always been conducted in the Western world is a question difficult to answer, but it certainly exists now. Fathers in the famine districts of Christian Russia have repeatedly sold their daughters to slavers who have hurried them across Siberia to Asiatic ports where white sons of Christian nations demand the service of white women. The revelation of William Stead years ago betrayed the connection of men of standing in Great Britain with the capture and importation of girl slaves form all parts of Europe. Indeed there is no nation, Christian or heathen which is free from complicity in this relic of barbarism, and to call it the ''White Slave Traffic" is a misnomer, for girls of all races and nations are among the unfortunate victims.

Spasmodic investigations into the general subject of Municipal graft have invariably uncovered the fact that the police have protected prostitution and meantime have fattened on the toll they have extorted form the keepers. Thus protected those who live by that traffic in women have found an abundant market for all the girls they have been able to catch.

Stanley W. Finch, Chief of the Bureau of Investigation, of the Department of Justice , whose peculiar opportunities for intimate and accurate knowledge give whimsical insight to his testimony says: What is to be done about? The hope of the present time is that revelations of such scope have been made to the public that thousands of men and women, indifferent yesterday, are keenly alert and watchful today. The cause of the new awakening is the shocking, terrible details of the slave traffic, but it is found by all investigators to be so inextricably connected with prostitution that no attack upon one can be effective unless aimed at both.

Prostitution is illegal everywhere. Better and more effective laws may be requested and these will not be difficult to secure. Such concessions are repeatedly made to popular uprising, but when the busy people, who have joined in the demand withdraw their petition and entrust the enforcement of the new law to the police, the old system of graft gradually returns, the slavers come out of their hiding and nothing is accomplished. When it is remembered that the saloons and prostitution are too often closely connected, as was completely demonstrated by the Report of the Chicago Vice Commission, and that these resorts have always been the recruiting grounds of certain types of politicians, it is evident that the fight against sex slavery and prostitution is not a moral but a political campaign. Education, continuous and persistent will do much.

When clergymen, doctors, parents and teachers are made to understand the full import of the degenerating influences upon the entire race, which arise from prostitution, to say nothing of morals or sex slavery, we may hope for a steady improvement in conditions. But in any event, the final test is the enforcement of the law with powerful voting constituency, composed of those who share in the profits or who patronize it, to stand as guard defending prostitution from every attack, what must we expect? The police who take the graft are part of a system and doubtless are often blameless as individuals. They have no backing of those opposed to this means of "regulating" prostitution. The final arbiter of the problem is the ballot box.

There is but one certain and permanent cure - woman suffrage. There has been a double standard of morals since the beginning of things. The man's standard is enfranchisement..... in politics and is the course of all police graft upon commercialized vice. It is his standard which maintains prostitution. When the woman's standard is enfranchised every police force will feel the presence of a constituency behind it demanding the enforcement of the law. It is a mere mathematical problem of numbers. He who runs should be able to read that conclusion. If proof is needed it can be produced. No sooner were the women of Washington enfranchised than the Mayor of Seattle was "recalled'', chiefly as the result of their activity, and the cause was his collusion with the social evil. In California, at the last election, every candidate for an office which had the slightest connection with the enforcement of law, took particular pains to declare his convictions and political record to be on the right side of the salve traffic. The enforcement of law in

Denver has resulted in the steady decline in the number of prostitutes there. The opposition to this form of immorality will of necessity be strengthened a hundred fold when it is armed with votes, yet none who know the real character and history of prostitution and sex slavery will expect sudden and complete changes even with votes in the hands of women. We began a thousand years too late to make quick work of it. The influences which tend to perpetuate prostitution are too many and too far reaching to be easily removed.

Wages too low to enable a girl to supply the ordinary and most pressing needs of life is one of the most tragic causes. Votes for women in the long run will tend to raise wages; to establish better working conditions for women to open new avenues of endeavor thus relieving the congested trades; to secure protection of women more fortunately placed; all of which will be a vital attack upon the causes of prostitution. But these will of necessity be gradual not immediate changes. The social evil is entrenched through centuries of encouragement, but years of adulation a persistent efforts coupled with votes in the hands of all opponents of this gigantic crime against the race, will bring a solution. The first step must be taken now.

If you earnestly desire a solution of this problem, do your utmost to secure votes for the women of New York.