This talk by Dr Siobhán Hearne is fifth in the series Prostitution, Pimping and Trafficking, curated by Deborah Lavin.
Prostitution flourished in Russia amidst the social, political and economic turbulence of the early twentieth century. Thousands of women sold sex in the Russian Empire’s rapidly expanding towns and cities in the early 1900s. Many registered their details with the police and attended regular gynaecological examinations in line with the Tsarist system for the regulation of prostitution, which remained in place from 1843 until the collapse of the autocracy in 1917. After their seizure of power in October 1917, the Bolsheviks made it their mission to eradicate prostitution. Early Soviet politicians categorised prostitution as a product of the undervaluation of female labour and the sexual double standard of the old capitalist regime. They claimed that socialism would bring about women’s equality and subsequently spell an end to commercial sex. However, the stigmatisation of women who sold sex continued across the revolutionary divide, which served to justify the repression of prostitutes as antisocial elements in the late 1920s. This talk examines the place of prostitution in Russian society both before and after the revolutions of 1917. In tracing continuity and change in the pre- and post-revolutionary periods, it will map state approaches to prostitution onto the turbulent landscape of revolutionary Russia.
Dr Siobhán Hearne is a historian currently based at the University of Latvia in Riga. She received her PhD in History from the University of Nottingham in 2017 for a thesis about the state regulation of prostitution in the late Russian Empire, which involved archival research in Russia, Ukraine, Latvia and Estonia. She is currently drafting her thesis as a monograph entitled Policing Prostitution: The Regulation of Lower-Class People in Late Imperial Russia. She has published several articles on gender and sexuality in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. She tweets from @siobhanhearne