In the first decade of the new Italian Republic (1948–1958), debate over the abolition of regulated prostitution, or state-controlled prostitution, led to the re-emergence of anthropological and scientific-medical theories regarding the origins of criminalisation of prostitutes. The notion of biological predetermination of the prostitute, codified by Cesare Lombroso at the end of the nineteenth century, impacted the political-institutional and scientific-medical debate surrounding the Merlin law which, in 1958, ordered the suppression of the ‘closed houses’. The Italian state invoked biological predeterminism to legitimise a double-standard sexual moral code that required the existence of repressive institutions in which to marginalise a category of women dedicated to the sale of sex. This article shows how Italian public institutions, in a strategic alliance with the scientific-medical world, constructed discriminatory policies that materialised in forms of physical and moral mortification, denying women the fundamental rights enshrined in the new Italian Republican Constitution.
Azara, L. (2020). Prostitution in Italy: the Merlin law and biological predetermination. WOMEN'S HISTORY REVIEW, 30(2), 272-286 [10.1080/09612025.2020.1757870].