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Band of Brothels

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"Often Licked, Never Beaten."
— One of the mottoes of the Guild of Seamstresses, Discworld

This is an organization that supervises, um, you know. Working girls. Ladies of the night. Women of negotiable affection. Those in the oldest profession. Those who turn tricks for goods and/or money. They who walk certain streets. Soiled Doves. Women who follow camps. Girls who are on call. Courtesans. In groups: Tray of Tarts, a Blazon of Strumpets, an Anthology of Pros. note 

There are some particular benefits of unionisation in the World's Oldest Profession; they might provide daycare for a young Son of a Whore, or security against unruly customers (they might even train the former to provide the latter).

Certainly a Weird Trade Union. Sometimes the Hooker with a Heart of Gold will be a member; there's sure to be at least one Miss Kitty, possibly running the whole thing. Often goes with Unproblematic Prostitution (with implications or outright statements that they're the people who keep it Unproblematic), but not always. Truth in Television as there are many organizations worldwide representing the interests and rights of sex workers, though they usually aren't seamstresses.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Casca from Berserk was taken in the protection of a band of prostitutes in a refugee camp when she wandered away from the protection of the elf cave that Guts left her in. So protective are they of the wayward, insane girl that they bandaged Casca up as a syphilis victim in order to keep the lecherous eyes of men off of her, as they did not force her into prostitution due to her condition. The girls are led by Luca, one of the few genuinely nice characters in the Berserkverse, who acts much more like a mother figure rather than a madame, splitting her shares evenly among the other girls and coming to their aid in the most dangerous of situations.
  • Interspecies Reviewers: The band of brothels is managed by the government. Cute Monster Girl prostitution is a fact of life, and the elected government regulates the industry, providing financial support to ensure the working conditions of welfare of the girls - and presumably to get some of the coin adventurers keep spending there via taxation.
  • Princess Mononoke: Not a technical organization, but Lady Eboshi's headquarters in Irontown is staffed largely by ex-prostitutes.

    Comic Books 
  • In the Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire stories by Phil Foglio, Buck's friend Louisa dem Five runs a brothel, the Velvet Fist — and has established, as of the "Gallimaufry" arc, a Velvet Fist franchise on the title Space Station.
  • Aneva's brothel in Red Sonja is a corrupt version where the guards protect the workers, but not from the guards themselves. Her dream is to overthrow the guards and replace it with a prostitute-run version.
  • The prostitutes of Old Town in Sin City. They have struck a deal with the cops to keep the police out of their section of the city (the police receive free services from the prostitutes, a cut of the profits, and receive a guarantee of no-harm while in Old Town) and this leaves the girls free to keep the pimps and mobs out themselves. Old Town is in essence its own little self-governing city, with a leadership and armed enforcers to make sure their women are treated properly by their clients.

    Fan Works 
  • In The Basalt City Chronicles, the Order of the Courtesan (basically a "saint" in the Smilodon religion) oversees baths and brothels. This creates some In-Universe Values Dissonance, as in Furriston brothels are illegal due to their tragic history.
  • The Discworld fic The Graduation Class is largely concerned with the inner workings and selection processes of the Guild of Assassins. But for one adult entry to Assassination, it was only her second career choice. Her first job interview was with the, ermm, Guild of Seamstresses. Read more about how this Guild recruits new members in this chapter.
  • And in the Expanded Discworld of A.A. Pessimal, in The New Guild, Mrs Sandra Battye has in fact secured Guild status for the other sort of Seamstress, the type that actually mends clothes, and is naming it the Guild of Prostitutes.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Deuce Bigalow II has the European Association of Gigolos.
  • The Taiwanese art-house movie Flowers Of Shanghai is about the lives of Chinese "Flowers" (i.e. high-class prostitutes) in 19th-century Shanghai. The whole movie takes place within the confines of the houses of pleasure, without a single outdoors shot.
  • Live Nude Girls Unite! is a documentary about the unionization of performers at the now-closed San Francisco peep show and strip club The Lusty Lady.
  • The comedy film Night Shift deals with this as its subject matter. The protagonists are two men who work the night shift at the city morgue. They decide to become pimps but they dial it up to eleven with the execution. They unionize their girls, give them most of the money they earn (as opposed to their previous pimps who got the larger share), give them health benefits and even invest some of their money in legitimate businesses making them the richest and healthiest working girls in New York.
  • Pretty Baby revolves around the day-to-day happenings of a Louisiana brothel in the 1910s. The protagonist is the twelve-year-old daughter of one of the whores and she helps work around the brothel. A plot point is her virginity being sold - which is unfortunately Truth in Television for the time.
  • In Sucker Punch the girls are actually in a Bedlam House, but the protagonist imagines that they're all whores in a brothel. The trope is subverted when the girls jump at the chance to escape.
  • In Unforgiven two cowboys badly injure a working girl. Her fellow ladies of the night pool their resources and put a bounty on the heads of the wrongdoers. Clint Eastwood's particular brand of badassery ensues.

  • A dedicated Teamsters union worker was attending a convention in Las Vegas and decided to check out the local brothels. When he got to the first one, he asked the Madam, "Is this a union house?" "No," she replied, "I'm sorry it isn't." "Well, if I pay you $100, what cut do the girls get?" "The house gets $80 and the girls get $20," she answered. Offended at such unfair dealings, the union man stomped off down the street in search of a more equitable, hopefully unionized shop. His search continued until finally he reached a brothel where the Madam responded, "Why yes sir, this is a union house. We observe all union rules." The man asked, "And if I pay you $100, what cut do the girls get?" "The girls get $80 and the house gets $20." "That's more like it!" the union man said. He handed the Madam $100, looked around the room, and pointed to a stunningly attractive blonde. "I'd like her," he said. "I'm sure you would, sir," said the Madam, then gestured to a ninety-two-year-old woman in the corner. "But Ethel here has sixty-seven years seniority and according to union rules, she's next."

  • Spider Robinson's Callahan's Lady series is about a bar/brothel run by Lady Sally, wife of Mike Callahan. The working girls have generous benefits, are well taken care of, and the sex is consensual and mutually supportive.
  • Captain French, or the Quest for Paradise: crosses with School of Seduction with the Order of Carnal Pleasures on the planet Dolores Rose. The ladies of the Order are unionized and are trained in many arts besides lovemaking. They have also installed "happiness meters" in every bed of their Happy Houses to properly charge clients for the amount of pleasure received (above the minimum, of course). Also, the word "prostitute" is frowned upon on the planet.
  • The creation of an association of this kind is the main plot in Mario Vargas Llosa's novel Pantaleon y las Visitadoras (known in English as Captain Pantoja and the Special Service).
  • The Liethe clan in Donald Kingsbury's Courtship Rite; although they're more like courtesans or geisha than simple prostitutes. They are highly skilled in the arts of music and dance as well as love and only make themselves available to the rich and powerful. They also have many secrets and an agenda of their own.
  • In Discworld, there's the Seamstresses' Guild. "Hem Hem." Let's just say that they don't sew a lot. There's a British English expression: "plain sewing" which refers to a sexual service... arguably, a form of massage. Seattle in the 1800s used the same term. Their motto was "A stitch in time will cost you a dime. All night alterations for a dollar." By the later books, there is in fact a non-negligible degree of sewing going on. This is because enough people didn't realize that seamstresses was a euphemism, so the Guild hired a number of non-euphemistic seamstresses to cover that sort of need, as well (it helped that non-euphemistic seamstresses are one of the few groups in the city not to have a guild). As to the more protective aspects of these sorts of guilds, the Seamstresses themselves don't need to do much, because they have Dotsie and Sadie, the Agony Aunts, on their side to brutalize anyone that tries anything funny; not even the most hardened criminals want a visit from them.
  • Robert A. Heinlein novel Friday. The California Confederacy has a hooker's union, which sponsored legislation to have the government train and license women who wanted to be prostitutes, then pay them a subsidy not to sell themselves. The union did this to reduce the total number of prostitutes so they could keep the union scale high and make more money themselves.
  • The city of Camorr in the Gentleman Bastard series by Scott Lynch had two such organizations amicably dividing work in the city between them. After a very bloody gang war, the monopoly was established, and all such services were run through the two guilds, with any competition swiftly crushed. Even when Magnificent Bastard Capa Vencarlo Barsavi murdered dozens of rivals to become sole ruler of the city's underworld, he dared not make an enemy of the brothels. Instead he offered them a partnership, leaving them otherwise independent in exchange for a tithe similar to that payed by the other gangs of the city. A tithe at a significantly lower percentage than that paid by any other gang in the city, of course.
  • Islands in the Net by Bruce Sterling has The Church of Ishtar along these lines.
  • Judge Dee often has to deal with these, usually because a young girl was sold or kidnapped and put to work there (which was illegal at the time).
  • Kushiel's Legacy by Jacqueline Carey: Prostitution is a sacred profession; there is no shame in it whatsoever, and the prostitutes (male and female) are all erudite and intelligent. The Court of Night Blooming Flowers is the collective for the oldest and most prestigious brothels in the capital. There is a larger guild as well that provides assistance and sets regulations for the less prestigious establishments and independents. There is a system of houses, each named after a flower and specializing in an...aspect of sexuality (though, in this world, alternative couples are common); for example, Valerian specializes in prostitutes who like pain, to put it delicately, and Cereus house is famed for its particularly erudite (verbally and sexually) servants.
  • The Temple of Venus in One Nation, Under Jupiter.
  • Shadows of the Empire: Exotic dancers in Black Sun's casinos have a union, who are actively lobbied for by their representative Maili Weng with Black Sun leader Prince Xizor to get better conditions.
  • The Cult of Ashera mentioned in Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, which used cult prostitutes to spread their metavirus.
  • Swan's Braid & Other Tales of Terizan: The Oreen prostitutes' guild is apparently the best in the city.
  • In Tales from Netheredge, the Harem of Caen is a variation of this whose supervising authorities protect the customers' rights (and whims) vastly over the interests of the workers, who have only each other for support and care.
  • Vorkosigan Saga
    • Beta Colony has its LPSTs: Licensed Professional Sexual Therapists. The hermaphrodite ones are especially popular.
    • Meanwhile a colony world of the Barrayaran Empire has SWORD, the Sex Workers Rights and Dignity Association. Notably it was created by the colony's governor, in order to reign in the abuse and exploitation of prostitutes around the local military base.
  • Being a fleet of Generation Ships, the Exodan Fleet of the Wayfarers series has the tryst clubs as part of the Health and Wellness division. They're unionized, well appointed, and well regarded, to the point where abuse of sex workers has completely faded out of Exodan culture by the time the books take place. The closest anyone gets to an actual incident is Kip forging an ID to sneak in underage, which is stopped near immediately.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the mini-series Ascension there are the Stewardesses who combine this with both Geisha and the Honey Trap as they are run by the Captain' wife and used to gather information for both her and her husband's benefit.
  • The Guild of Companions in Firefly, although Companions are more like Ancient Greek Hetairai, or a cross between prostitutes, geishas, therapists, and confessors (hetaira itself means "companion" in Greek, so possible Shout-Out).
    • Also, in the episode "Heart of Gold", the occupants of a local brothel are all willing to fight and die to protect the baby of one of their own. Well, almost all. The brothel's owner is herself a former Companion who wanted to improve common prostitutes' lives by better treatment.
  • The entire premise of Harlots. In 1760s London, women's opportunities for economic advancement are either through marriage or sex work. The city's brothels are run by canny and determined businesswomen, such as Margaret Wells and Lydia Quigley, but there is a new morality on the rise. Religious evangelists demand the closure of brothels, and police are happy to launch brutal raids
  • In the Murdoch Mysteries episode "Republic of Murdoch", it turns out George's "aunts" are a group of prostitutes who formed a sort of collective in the old rectory (the rector was George's adoptive father). Murdoch has a very circumspect conversation in which he tries to ascertain if the occasionally naive George actually knows this. (He does.)
  • The US version of Shameless (US), offers a kind of deconstruction of this idea when Mickey tries to intervene in the plight of local prostitutes by organizing a "strike." The madam of the brothel responds by simply smuggling in more Russian immigrants to replace the old ones. The lesson being that there will always be women in desperate situations who’re willing to trade sex for a better life, and people who’re more than willing to take advantage of that.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In 7th Sea, "Jenny's Girls" are an important political group.
  • The Forgotten Realms setting of Dungeons & Dragons has an unconventional take on this: the church of Sharess is mostly composed of prostitutes of all ends of the spectrum, including males, and while Sharess is only a demipower, the church has powerful allies and more influence in certain quarters than one would expect. Sharess is the goddess of pleasure.
  • Some Warhammer 40,000 novels imply that institutionalized prostitution is relatively common.
  • The Old World of Darkness game Werewolf: The Apocalypse has the Aethera Inamorata, a faction within the Children of Gaia tribe composed of sexual healers. They're all about the spirituality of sex and maintains the tribe's close ties to the Cult of Ecstasy tradition of Mages. They were originally known as "Houris" and/or "The Hours," and claim that agents of the game's Eldritch Abomination mutated that name into "whore" and turned sex into something seen as dirty and shameful by society.

    Video Games 
  • The Mox in Cyberpunk 2077 are an entire gang of armed sex workers and sexual minorities. They started out as a Vigilante Militia, which rose up in retaliation against the murder of "one girl too many". Unlike most of the other gangs of Night City, they have no interest in gaining territory, focusing instead on running their club and protecting their own.
  • One of the areas in The Legend of Tian-ding is a series of restaurants which serves as brothels, where your Love Interest - a Hooker with a Heart of Gold - works at. There's even a mission set inside where you disguise yourself as a working girl via Disguised in Drag.
  • A line in Saints Row: The Third by Zimos the pimp reveals that his prostitutes have unionized and forced him to offer medical benefits and paid vacation time.

    Visual Novels 
  • Rose Haibara, the protagonist of Rose Guns Days, is the madam of club Primavera, a high-class establishment for ladies of the night, which has other establishments related to it and over the course of the story becomes a mafia group, as well as a semi-political nationalistic organisation which pretty much rules City 23 (a district of this story's Tokyo).

    Web Comics 

    Real Life 
  • The UK-based International Union of Sex Workers is part of the GMB Union, Britain's general union for those who aren't part of the huge professions to have a chance at some representation at the higher levels. The GMB has a branch for dancers and other adult entertainers.
  • The International Sex Worker Foundation for Art, Culture, and Education focuses on the collection and preservation of art by and about sex workers.
  • In Ancient Rome, prostitutes had their own guild (collegium), along with bakers, butchers, carpenters, blacksmiths, etc.
  • The New Zealand Prostitutes' Collective were instrumental in passing the Prostitution Reform Act 2003 which decriminalized sex work for adults, resulting in improved relations with law enforcement and lower rates of violence towards sex workers.
  • One of the oldest ones is the "Rode draad" or "red thread" in the Netherlands. The name lampshades their infamous red-light districts and is a Dutch-language pun about having something in common. Bonus pun: the Dutch word for sewing ("naaien") is slang for screwing. It is probably an additional play on the Biblical story of Jericho, where the "innkeeper" Rachab put a red thread out of her window as a signal to the Israelites. Appropriately, the organization takes its left-wing, or "red", roots very seriously. It is one of the powerhouses of Dutch politics and has done valuable work in multiple areas, including law enforcement, workplace safety regulations, and public healthcare reform.
  • Religious institutions have often taken on the role of "supervisor of the brothels," typically maintaining standards of cleanliness of facilities and ensuring the welfare of the prostitutes. In some cases, this was because the religious authorities held a "better allowed, safe, and under our control than prohibited, dangerous, and out of our hands" attitude towards the practice; in other cases, this was because the prostitution was a religious ritual/duty.note 
    • In London the brothels of Southwark were owned by the Bishop of Winchester.
    • But in Paris and Lyons in medieval France, they were part of the guild dealing with baths, which led to moral censors deciding to completely close the public baths in France as well in the 17th century.
    • Even the Catholic Church (of all institutions!) had some specially sanctioned prostitutes, on the basis that they acknowledged that men have certain "needs" and would commit rape if they couldn't get those "needs" fulfilled. (Rape was seen as being about sex, not power and control.) They also assumed that even if the Church did not control prostitution, prostitution would happen anyway, and better that they control it than anybody else.
    • Slightly further in the past, most of the... "quality" prostitutes were found in temples. For instance, the temple prostitution of Ishtar is Older Than Dirt. Makes sense, as Ishtar was literally the goddess of sex (and of War, but not of Childbirth).
    • The term devadasi originally described a Hindu religious practice in which girls were "married" and dedicated to a deity (deva or devi). In addition to taking care of the temple, and performing rituals, they learned and practiced Bharatanatyam and other classical Indian arts traditions, and enjoyed a high social status. Over time, the institution became identified with prostitution.
  • Sex Workers Outreach Project USA (SWOP-USA) protested against Grand Theft Auto's use of Disposable Sex Worker and the controversial FOSTA-SESTA federal act note , and has branches around the U.S. for peer support. SWOP Behind Bars operates a national sex worker support line and provides advocacy for incarcerated sex workers.

Alternative Title(s): Band Of Prostitutes