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The Forgotten War on Women

I've always believed that looking at the history of the United States is critical so we can continue to improve as a healthy nation and avoid repeating past mistakes. In 1917, during the first World War, officials were horrified at the number of servicemen who were contracting sexually transmitted diseases. Antibiotics had not yet been invented and the government declared it a "security threat" for the country. Beginning in 1918 every state passed an American Plan legislation wherein women could be arrested, strip searched and forcibly "examined" and held indefinitely if they were suspected of having a STI (sexually transmitted infection). The governors in New York and California lauded the Plan and by 1921 all 48 states had laws on their books that targeted "loose"women.

There are numerous stories of women who were arrested for "looking suspicious", dressing "wrong", acting "wrong" or just out and about without a man's protection. Records exist in archives that show the vague standard of "reasonable suspicion" included sitting in a restaurant alone, changing jobs, or even walking down the street. Women who refused sex with a police officer were also detained and vaginally examined. Thousands of women were arrested, locked up in reformatories, work-houses and jails in the name of "social hygeine". No proof of a woman selling sex was needed to haul her in.

Of course, immigrant and women of color were prime targets for arrest and abuse. Enforcement of the American Plan continued until the Civil Rights and Women's Rights era in the 1970s, but the statutes and laws remain on the books today. Every State has the right to detain and isolate anyone who they "reasonably suspect" of having a STI.

It's important to be aware that social anxiety, need for control and rigid opinions can combine together at any time to create state control over women's bodies. Unchecked power over those who have little, is an atrocity that should keep us on high alert today.

Read more about this time in America in this page-turner by Scott W. Stern. The Trials of Nina McCall.


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