The Chicago Vice Commission
Richard C. Cabot
Despite the ninety-five recommendations through which the Chicago Vice Commission hopes to make war upon the social evil, I suppose there are not many persons who, after reading its report, will feel more hopeful than before. Yet we may thank the commission for impressing upon us afresh the omnipresence of the evil which it is attacking.
Special dangers, special temptations to sexual vice lurk, as the commission shows us, in the streets, but also in the homes of the people; among strangers, but likewise among blood relations; in the hotels and shops of a city, but none the less in the steamships and railway trains; in the crowded theaters, dance halls, and saloons, to be sure, but in the empty parks as well; in the ice cream parlors as in the long notorious "massage parlors."
What place can be named that has not a special and peculiar danger? Is there any hope of protecting us in all these places at once? Is it not better to recognize that the danger exists wherever people exist?
It is the same with the commission's report of a list of "causes" for sexual vice. It is easy to see that low wages contribute to it, but can any one fail to recognize that poverty also withholds some while financial comfort appears to lure others to their disgrace? Strength of "desire" and weakness of "will," loneliness and the close pressure of others' example, ignorance and sophistication, too much slavery and too much liberty—every conceivable feature of character and of environment can be brought to mind as a "cause" of vice by those who are familiar with city life or with this report.
I believe that it is useless to search out "causes" and danger points. Everything, every place, and everybody in the community must be reformed before the "social evil" is appreciably ameliorated. But this is encouraging, not discouraging. We need waste no time in search or preparation. We can attack the evil anywhere—in ourselves first and best of all. Any genuine good that we do to any one will help abolish the social evil.
One good accomplished in this report is the contradiction of the old fallacy that prostitutes usually die within five years. Among thirty who had been in the business an average of five years (eight of them considerably more than five years) "the majority are apparently in robust health." (page 148.) Yet the commission itself repeats the old fallacy (page 32) in a slightly altered form.
One of the flimsiest of the many flimsy weapons employed against the colossal evils of sexual vice is the gross exaggeration of its dangers to life. Another is the sort of advice with which the commission closes its ninety-fifth recommendation: "that the daily press publish an appeal or protest to parents that their children be not given too much liberty; that parents and guardians accompany children of all ages upon their amusement excursions" (page 52).
Venereal disease can be abolished in armies and navies (perhaps elsewhere) by prophylactic and medicinal treatment. Houses of prostitution can be raided and broken up, scattering their inmates in the flats and tenements of the city as seeds of new vicious example (apparently the commission does not believe in segregating prostitutes in restricted areas). But the social evil will be practically as great as before when venereal disease is controlled and prostitution scattered. It can be attacked only in the individual soul and by the individual soul overmastered by God.