Philippa Lesley Hetherington

Lecturer, School of Slavonic and East European StudiesUniversity of London / University College London

Award Information

2011 IDRF Program

HistoryHarvard University

Victims of the Social Temperament: Prostitution, Migration and the Traffic in Women in Imperial and Soviet Russia, 1890-1928

In late nineteenth century Russia, trafficking in women for the purposes of prostitution emerged as a distinct social problem that preoccupied feminists, liberal activists and state officials alike and inspired multiple attempts at legal regulation in 1903, 1909 and 1922. My dissertation will investigate the historical origins of this ‘traffic in women’ in Imperial Russian and Soviet law and society over the period 1890-1928. It will trace the development of the particular crime of trafficking in Russian law alongside a study of the term’s contested meanings in public discourse, both of which were influenced by increasing concern about migratory sex work. My dissertation will have three main conceptual foci. The first is a study of the language through which Russian feminists, liberal activists, socialists, state officials and Bolsheviks constructed gendered understandings of sexual consent, and the way in which these understandings were codified in law and contested in public debate over forced prostitution. The second is an examination of the interaction between sex work and female migration at the turn of the century, which will investigate the various ways in which increasing mobility created possibilities and dangers for single women, from voluntary prostitution to forced trafficking or ‘white slavery’. Finally, I will look at the centrality of the anti-trafficking campaigns for Russia’s involvement in the formation of international law. The Russian campaigns against white slavery developed in the context of an international anti-trafficking movement that gained strength in the 1890s and reached its apotheosis in the interwar period as the League of Nations took up the struggle against forced prostitution. My dissertation will argue that Russian involvement in these campaigns problematizes widely held presuppositions regarding the inherent liberalism of turn of the century humanitarianism, which accommodated so easily illiberal Russian legal traditions.