Posted by on April 29, 2017

“But to really combat the problem requires the moral regeneration of society.  Perhaps we should pretty much give up on rehabilitating the girls who have already become prostitutes; we won’t succeed anyway.  We must concentrate on the generation that is now in kindergarten and first grade.  We must see to their moral education.  And for this we need a national program.”

Poster for the movie (“Intergirl”) about a foreign-currency prostitute.

Prostitution was a prominent issue within Soviet culture during the 1980’s. Although many Soviets were concerned with the immoral aspect of prostitution, a main problem regarding prostitution was the clientele.  Soviet Russia in the 1980’s competed with foreigners, particularly the West, in almost every sphere, including prostitution.  Many visitors to Russian prostitutes were those from other countries.  Foreign-currency prostitution was a growing concern.  In fact, foreign-currency prostitutes were some of the most successful considering they typically received higher pay than other prostitutes servicing members of Russian society.  For example, the Current Digest states: “Foreign-currency prostitutes, the top group, charge the equivalent of 100 rubles or more, and sometimes make up to 1,500 rubles a night.  Middle-level prostitutes make between 10 and 200 rubles, while the price for a train-station prostitute is about 10 rubles.”

 

To me, I found it incredibly ironic that the Russians, during the Cold War era, were having to compete with the West in almost of sector and prostitution was another area of Soviet culture that the Soviets had to compete with foreigners.

 

Unfortunately for the Russians, combatting foreign-currency prostitution, and prostitution in general, was increasingly difficult.  This difficulty arose out of the cluelessness regarding how to deal with it.  As stated before, some people believed that because it was an issue of morality, what was necessary to fix it was a moral regeneration of society that began at an early age.  Others, however, wanted to take a financial route by placing fines on prostitutes.  “Can you really stop these increasingly brazen women with a 100-ruble fine? When two Moscow prostitutes who had been involved in foreign-currency operations were arrested recently, nearly a half-million rubles in bonds alone were confiscated from them!”

 

Petr Todorovskii: Intergirl (1987)

 

Another option that was presented to the Soviets regarding potentially eliminating prostitutes was simply to arrest the prostitutes instead of fine them.  Unfortunately, there was not much sound evidence that could hold a prostitute, or their lover, in jail.  For example, “The prostitute goes on trial, but what about the client? What is he, merely a witness? And where do we draw the line between flirtation over an expensive dinner in a restaurant and love for sale, between the innocent encounter and the criminal act? Scores of prostitutes loiter outside Moscow’s hotels. They are carted off in busloads to a police station, scolded for violating the hotel’s regulations and then release, almost with apologies.”

 

The Soviets were certainly caught between a rock and a hard place. It seemed almost impossible to deal with prostitution considering no sort of punishment seemed plausible.  However, prostitution put a new movement into motion.  “Female sexuality first made its way into the press as criminality with the recently taboo subject of prostitution.”  Whether taboo or not, prostitution opened many discussions regarding the rights of females over their own bodies. Furthermore, it prompted a conversation about female liberation.

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Comments

  1. Joe Hulslander
    May 1, 2017

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    Leah, I enjoyed reading your post. I found it interesting to learn that the problem of prostitution led to a movement concerning female sexuality. I did not know about prostitution being such a problem to the Russian government. It was interesting to see the noted difference between prostitutes and foreign currency prostitutes. It makes me wonder if their government cared more about their international political and social image more than the women themselves. Or perhaps their government worried about them equally. Cool post.

  2. Max Morrison
    May 1, 2017

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    Hi Leah, you picked a very interesting topic to write about this week–I had never thought about Soviet prostitution before reading this. In another class I am taking this semester on murder in American history, what is fascinating is that prostitution was not always illegal in American history, although it was always viewed as morally wrong. As such, the Soviets seemed to encounter a similar problem in trying to figure out how to combat the rise in prostitution; if I had to guess, I’d say that sticking with fines was probably the most practical solution to the issue at hand.

  3. Drew Snell
    May 1, 2017

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    This is a fascinating topic. The idea of “moral regeneration” is not surprising given the past Soviet emphasis on education, but it is interesting how this solution did not even combat active prostitutes. I also like that you address how traditional methods of punishment like fines and jail time were ineffective due to the nature of the job. Nice work!

  4. Jimmy Meehan
    May 1, 2017

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    I wouldn’t expect prostitution to be an area of competition between the Soviets and the West. This was a very interesting topic that I certainly did not expect to come across. It is interesting to see what the Soviet government tried to do to combat this part of their society. I wonder if this is still a problem in Russia today and if they are still trying to limit it.

  5. Andrew Russell
    May 2, 2017

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    You make an interesting point about the concept of moral regeneration. The falling morals of the era were noted within prostitution and it was also brought up when I was doing some research about the Liubers of Moscow. Although not a direct correlation, I still found it interesting that it was such a prevailing theme for this time period in the Soviet Union.

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