UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES)


The Social History of Prostitution in the Late Russian Empire

01 November 2021, 6:00 pm–7:30 pm

Policing prostitution book cover

A SSEES Russian Studies Seminar with Dr Siobhán Hearne (Durham University)

This event is free.

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From the 1840s until 1917, prostitution was legally tolerated across the Russian Empire under a system known as regulation. Under regulation, women who sold sex were required to register their details with the police, attend regular gynaecological examinations, and abide by a whole host of restrictions. The regulation system had a far-reaching impact upon the lives of various groups within urban society. Brothel madams bickered with urban residents over the visibility and audibility of prostitution in urban space. Poorly paid police agents forged advantageous financial relationships with registered prostitutes and their managers. As the Russian government became more concerned with combatting rising venereal diseases amongst the population in the early twentieth century, the bodies of certain groups of lower-class men also became objects of state intervention.

In this seminar, Siobhán Hearne will present an overview of her book Policing Prostitution: Regulating the Lower Classes in Late Imperial Russia (OUP, 2021). This study examines how the state regulation of prostitution was implemented, experienced, and resisted amid rapid urbanization, industrialization, and modernization around the turn of the twentieth century. Each chapter examines the lives and challenges of different groups who engaged with the world of prostitution, including women who sold sex, the men who paid for it, mediators, the police, and wider urban communities.