Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

A Lithuanian girl arrived in England looking for work and was promptly sold for £4,000 to an Albanian. He raped her and put her in a brothel. She escaped, was recaptured, sent to another brothel, then sold for £3,000, escaped again, was recaptured again, sent to London, traded several more times and finally fled to the police. She was 15. This poor girl must feel her life has been utterly destroyed, but she must not give up hope. Even in the ancient world, where slavery and therefore trading in humans as commodities were commonplace, there were glimmers of it.

Female slaves were regularly put into brothels (the Greek for 'whore', pornê, is cognate wtih pernêmi, 'I sell'). The one hope such a girl had would be to scrape together enough money to buy her freedom. She would then at least be independent, on the rosiest scenario able to pick and choose her lovers and perhaps to build some financial security for herself.

Take, for example, the story of Neaera (4th century BC), which we know from a law-courts speech. Even before puberty she had been purchased to work in a brothel in Corinth by the owner Nicarete, who 'was good at spotting potential in young girls and knew how to raise and train them skilfully', and called the girls 'her daughters' to increase their price. …

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