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Seacoast Teen Abducted to Brothel

Red_Light_DistrictHISTORY MATTERS

Ethel Duffy, 14, of Portland, Maine was kidnapped while staying with friends in Dover in the summer of 1912. She was apparently drugged by a woman named Constance Perry, 25, who delivered the girl to the infamous Water Street (now Marcy) in Portsmouth, NH. When the brothel owners refused to accept the underage girl, Perry offered Duffy to men passing on the street. (Continued below)

 

 

 

According to the Portsmouth Times, Perry and a local ironworker named Clarence Hudson took Duffy to a residence on Deer Street, pretending to be members of a family. There Duffy was “assaulted” by the ironworker. When police later raided the Deer Street home, they found Duffy in her room “in a pitiful condition” with a sailor named William Marlow. 

Police arrested both men and held them without bail. Perry was held on $5,000 bail for what reporters called “white slavery.” Ethel Duffy herself was held on a $500 bond to keep her available as a witness to testify against Perry and her two assailants at a grand jury.   

Legends, not facts 

Ethel Duffy’s tragic story, told in her own words, is rare indeed. Portsmouth tour guides eagerly recite tales of the city’s “red light” district that flourished openly in the South End until 1912. But despite the colorful legends, dramatically told, little documentation survives. Female prostitutes, often underage, were called "inmates" according to one news report. But without their shocking personalized stories, Portsmouth’s red light district is often portrayed with a wink, a nod, and even a comic tone.   

Like many gritty seaports, Portsmouth’s waterfront combat zone was well-known among mariners, sailors, shipyard workers, and fishermen, but was a hush-hush topic within the city itself. The anonymous “johns” didn’t talk. Clients reportedly included politicians, clergy, and even students from Phillips Exeter Academy. Houses of “ill repute” many located along the waterfront doubled as oyster bars, hotels, saloons, confectionary shops, and dance halls. Their owners left no written proof of the city’s thriving sex trade.   

MORE ON the murders of 1912

Police records and newspaper accounts also offer scant evidence. Despite public decency campaigns to close the brothels in the Victorian Era and the early 20th  century, local police reportedly conspired with bordello owners to keep the profitable business going. Policemen who attempted to clean up local vice sometimes met a violent response from their peers. But by the summer of 1912, following an explosive rise in crime and five unsolved riverside murders, the bordellos were officially shuttered. 

CONTINUED RED LIGHT ZONE

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017 
 
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