Legible bodies in invisible and contained spaces: the Turkish state’s construction of places for regulated sex work

By Kyle T. Evered
Submitted to Session P4205 (Gender, sex and prostitution in Turkey, 1920s-1950s, 2015 Annual Meeting
History of Medicine;
LCD Projector without Audio;
After lengthy discussions in the early 1930s, the Turkish government opted to legalize prostitution and thoroughly regulate it. The 1933 “Regulation for the Struggle against Prostitution and Venereal Diseases Spread by Prostitution” was one of the most comprehensive laws in modern Turkish history, but contrary to what its title implied, this 126-article law did not aim to eradicate but rather ‘regulate’ sex work within the republic. In doing so, the state introduced strict provisions that re-mapped prostitution, creating invisible and contained spaces out of view and often on the peripheries of towns and cities. As much as the state aspired to conceal brothels, it also sought to render the bodies of prostitutes legible to state officials who would subject them to medical examination, licensing, and—when necessary—courses of treatment and bans from working. To achieve control, the movements of sex workers within their own communities were restricted and monitored under systems of surveillance, and local councils and leaders were recruited as active collaborators in the governmental administration of brothels. In this context of regulated bodies, places, and sexuality, the state achieved a measure of control over licensed sex work but also criminalized all other practices. Concentrating on the 1933 regulation and associated archival documents and state records, this paper examines this matter of control from the vantage of the geographic scales implicated in the republic’s regulation of sex work, ranging from the body, to regulated brothels, to the country’s communities, and to the nation-state.