Protection of Women and Children in Soviet Russia


Every country has its prostitutes especially in its large cities and Russia is no exception, but the Revolution made a decided change in the traditional methods of handling the problem. To begin with the fundamental principle that, although there are some women who are naturally polygamous to the point of promiscuity it is agreed that most prostitutes are forced into their profession by economic necessity and circumstances. Consequently, though prostitution is frowned on in Russia, it is not the women themselves who are punished, but rather they are given a fresh start and the conditions which forced them into such an abnormal life are removed as far as possible. The marriage laws do not leave much room for prostitution because they make it too difficult for men to have relations with many women for fear they will be named as father of children whom they will have to support. However, there are prostitutes, and they are mainly uneducated girls of peasant origin who have wandered to the cities to find work and who have lacked the necessary training and help.

In Moscow there is an admirable institution known as the Prophelactorium of Prostitutes where unattached women who are suffering from venereal diseases are housed, educated, taught a trade and treated for their illnesses. The Prophelactorium is in a large building and has an experimental branch in another part of the city. It houses about two hundred girls and has room for fifty more. The women sleep in dormitories, have three charming lounge rooms and considerable freedom. They are rescued from the streets, public lavatories, and some even hear of the Prophelactorium and ask for admittance. Occasionally when the police round up all the homeless women of the city, those who are diseased are told where they can go for treatment and what the conditions are, but they are not forced to go to the Prophelactorium even though they are required to receive treatment in one of the venereal clinics.

Each woman remains for at least a year or longer if necessary. After the year is up they are required to return to the clinic for treatments until they are cured. Ninety per cent of the women have syphilis and some of them look very ill hut most show the effect of good care and all of them seem cheerful and happy. The head doctor is an expert dermatologist, a young man who is obviously much respected by the inmates. His equipment is excellent and has been renewed since the beginning of the Five Year Plan.

The purpose of the institution is twofold: first to cure all the inmates of their diseases and second to teach them a good trade at which they can easily earn their livings without desire or necessity of again taking to the streets. Each day they go to a nearby textile or knitting factory, according to their choice, where they earn the wages their skill warrants exactly as do other workers. A part of their wages goes to pay for their room and board at the Prophelactorium and the rest they are at liberty to use as they please, although they are encouraged to save a little so that they will have something to go on when they leave the institution. Care is taken that they become literate as soon as possible in order that they may have more varied means of using their spare time. Their status as free women under the Soviet: regime is emphasised here even more than most places for its realisation develops a kind of pride which is an important weapon in the fight against prostitution. Certainly the very freedom of their lives breeds self-respect as it could never do in an ordinary woman's prison where such women receive punishment and little else. Some of the women marry and bear healthy children and as they acquired a liking and sympathy for the Prophelactorium when they were inmates, they frequently return for visits even after they have been discharged as patients. Their visits aid greatly in keeping up the morale of the inmates as well as the doctors and nurses for they give ample evidence of the success of this type of experiment.

Each year there are fewer prostitutes in Moscow and in the spring of 1931 there were 10% fewer than in 1929 and that in spite of the large numbers of industrial centers and collective farms where as yet men have not begun to take their wives. Because, in the city of Moscow prostitution is dying down, the Prophelactorium is beginning to take women from other cities and bring them to Moscow for treatment and education but as yet no elaborate steps have been made in this direction. It is hoped that with the furthering of cultural opportunities throughout the U. S. S. R. that fewer and fewer women will have the inclination or opportunity of running the risks of the prostitute's life. As it is now it only appeals to the very young as can be seen by the fact that all of the women in the Moscow Prophelactorium are under twenty-five years of age and at least 25% of them are less than sixteen years old and, what is even more important, all of them are illiterate and unskilled at any work.