The end result is this meticulously researched, utterly damning work that lays out just what measures the United States government took to control women’s sexuality and autonomy—and how perfectly happy local officials and law enforcement were to go along with it ... The truths revealed in this book are truly shocking, and even more so because they are so little known. The culture of silence that has impacted sex workers for so long has finally begun to dissipate, but potent dangers remain ... One hopes the fact that more authors are now working to tell those stories means that more people will fight back.
It’s a shattering story. In his detailed, occasionally dense narrative, Stern (a 2015 Yale graduate who began his research in college) inculpates not just sexism and puritanical sexual policing, but racism, classism, xenophobia—and capitalism itself ... The emotional heart of the book, drawn in part from trial transcripts, is an account of how McCall, a small-town Michigan woman of Canadian and Scottish heritage, transformed herself from victim to resister ... The Trials of Nina McCall suggests that, in the face of misogyny and fear, the Constitution’s civil liberties and due process protections are flimsier than we dare acknowledge.
Mr. Stern shows how the Plan, ostensibly about public health, became a law-enforcement cudgel, one aimed at 'loose women,' disproportionate numbers of whom were working-class or of color. And while all prostitutes require clients, hardly any men were arrested under the Plan ... Most of what Mr. Stern knows of her story comes from court transcripts. That makes it difficult to build a whole book around her, and Mr. Stern’s essentially big-picture account of the Plan sometimes gets a bit dry. However, he does a fine job linking the American Plan to pure greed (states paid cities to administer it) and even to the U.S. government’s infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. Mr. Stern also documents contemporaneous criticism—whose sources ranged from women’s rights advocates to such unlikely bedfellows as journalist H.L. Mencken and the Industrial Workers of the World—and some detained women’s own rebellions, including ingenious escapes. And Mr. Stern notes that all American Plan laws remain on the books—tools close at hand for some future oppressor.