Summary of ‘Prostitution within the Illicit Market of the Saratov Region’ (2013)

developed by Enkhchimeg “Jewel” Sengee, TraCCC Graduate Research Fellow, May 2013

‘Prostitution within the Illicit Market of the Saratov Region’ (2013)

Yu.A. Fomicheva
Saratov Center for the Study of Organized Crime and Corruption at the Saratov State Law Academy
Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TraCCC) at George Mason University

Yuliya. A. Fomicheva,  a senior at the Saratov State Law Academy, conducted a research project on prostitution within the illicit market of the Saratov Region in early 2013 through a grant from TraCCC. Through her research, she draws attention to the characteristics of prostitution in the illicit market and analyzes different approaches to dealing with its negative consequences. Her research methods include a review of Russia’s historical experience in dealing with prostitution, an analysis of mass media and relevant legislation, a detailed analysis of a recent high-profile case involving an organized crime group, 12 expert interviews, and an empirical survey involving 300 people living in the region. The surveys were conducted in the form of a questionnaire, discussion, and website-based survey (administered on the Russian social network site Vkontake). 92% (276 of total 300) of surveyors were aged 15-30, of which 79% were students (237 of 300).

According to Fomicheva, during the Russian Empire, prostitution was partially legalized under strict supervision (p. 13-17). The first systematic legal regulation of prostitution was reflected in the Code of Laws of the Russian Empire (1832). The law was designed to protect public morality and family values, to guard public health, and also to make prostitutes’ clients punishable. Under the law, only certain places were authorized to provide prostitution. The author notes that biletnyie prostitutki provided services in brothels and blankovyie prostituki worked in rented apartments under the supervision of pimps. Prostitutes were given a ‘Joltyi Bilet’ (yellow ticket) from the police, for which they had to temporarily surrender their passport. The ticket recorded weekly medical check-ups, which were conducted at police stations in a “health unit for prostitutes”. Prostitutes without the proper documentation were detained by the police and forced to undergo medical check-ups, then sent to places authorized to provide the service. Punishments for violations of the law included forced repentances in churches, monetary charges, detention in a police correctional house, and even closing the unauthorized organization involved in prostitution (i.e., a hotel, restaurant, bath house, or cafe). According to Fomicheva’s findings, the total number of prostitutes in Imperial Russia was estimated at 17,603 in 1889.

Driven by socialist ideology, the Soviet Union implemented repressive measures to eradicate prostitution (p. 18-23). Per Fomicheva, in the early years of the USSR, prostitutes were viewed as victims of capitalist structure. In 1919, a “Forced Hard Labor Concentration Camp for Women” was established in Petrograd, in which 60% of the women were suspected prostitutes. She notes that in the 1920s lawyers, medical doctors, narcologists, and venereologists conducted a major study on prostitutes and homeless women, including underage girls. The study revealed negative social and hygienic consequences of prostitution:  drug addiction, a high rate of venereal diseases, and crime. By the late 1930s, Soviet society considered prostitutes enemies of the socialist class. Some measures against them included incarceration in mass concentration camps (Gulags) and being sent to monasteries for corrective rehabilitation. For many years the issue of prostitution was not publicly discussed. However, in later periods of the USSR, as the economic situation dimmed, prostitution was again denounced as a negative social phenomenon.

In 1986, the issue re-appeared in Soviet newspapers and a documentary was even made about it.  Between March 1998 and January 1999, the Security Council of Saratov oblast’ authorized a test period to observe the feasibility of legalizing prostitution in the region. The post-test results revealed that  the youth infection of syphilis grew fourfold (p. 24). The spread of STDs in the city of  Balakovo was the highest.

Fomicheva argues that prostitution plays a central role in the illicit market within the Saratov region. Prostitution is a form of organized crime closely related to the sale of narcotics and psychotropic substances, violence and abuse, human trafficking, and corruption. Those surveyed by Fomicheva identified prostitution and pimping as the second largest activity (75.5%) in Saratov’s illicit market, surpassed only by the narcotics business (78%). The third-largest was gambling (50%), followed by trade of counterfeits (39%), arms trade (27.5%), poaching (27%), contraband activity (23.5%), and pornography (8%). Saratov has a reputation as a criminal center in Russia due to the prosecution of recent highly publicized criminal cases related to prostitution (p.36). Fomicheva analyzes the widely publicized prosecution of Eduardo Davidov and his comrades, known as the Perm Business. The investigation revealed that Mr. Davidov’s criminal group was highly organized with a strict hierarchical structure. Their cover business was the ‘Computer Club T-18,’ established in 2008. The investigation revealed law enforcement involvement. An example of this involvement provided in the paper is a fake debt-bondage conspiracy designed to keep women in prostitution. A pimp would secretly put a small packet of flour in a prostitute’s belongings, which would be declared to be cocaine by a police officer searching her. The pimp would then rescue the prostitute by bribing the police and further indebting her to the pimp. Fomicheva asserts that these anecdotes reveal the multi-faceted problem of prostitution in  modern Russian society and have led authorities to consider ways to reduce prostitution.

The author notes that, over time, the characteristics of prostitution have changed in the Saratov region. The region is undergoing rapid urbanization, increased access to legal and illegal goods and services, migration, and a rising student population, all of which have led to a shifting composition of criminal activities in the region (p. 4). The places providing prostitution have diversified, expanding from brothels, saunas and summer dachas to massage parlors, dating clubs, sports and fitness complexes, ordinary apartments, and hotels. Fomicheva notes the existence of widespread “implicit” prostitution, in which young girls act as girlfriends or mistresses for richer men in exchange for material items. Her research shows that women inclined to prostitution are likely to have witnessed adultery, immoral abusive relationship, abuse of loyalty and marital duty in the family. However, the most common reason women become involved in prostitution is financial problems or a lack of legitimate employment opportunities. Fomicheva provides excerpts from the blog of a prostitute in Saratov, “Prostitutka Ket”, who writes that she comes from a poor, remote village. After completing her university studies and returning to her village, she determined that only way to escape poverty was through prostitution. Ket openly shares her stories on her blog and maintains an average of 23,000 followers. She claims that she earns 100,000 rubles per month. Fomicheva highlights that Prostitutka Ket believes that her blog is a journal encouraging women to seek opportunities other than prostitution.

Fomicheva’s survey reveals systemic problems in dealing with prostitution. She finds that mass media plays a significant role in the recruitment of prostitutes and in the delivery of services in the Saratov region, even asserting that the open advertisement of prostitution has made inhabitants of the region tolerant to it. The survey of inhabitants of the city of Saratov indicates that 74.5% of them had been exposed to solicitations for prostitution services in the media, including the Internet, TV, paper advertisements, and other sources. Moreover, experts and surveyors expressed concerns about the legal system in prosecuting prostitution and sexual exploitation cases. According to the criminal code of the Russian Federation, prostitution is an administrative offense subject to Article 240, Involvement in Prostitution, and Article 241, Organization of Prostitution. Experts interviewed by Fomicheva stressed the need to create laws that would specifically address situations in which law enforcement officials are found to have been involved in prostitution-related crimes, which is a frequent occurrence. (p. 55-56). Under Russian law, pimping is not a criminal offense, although pimps are professional criminals and are a threat to public safety.  Additionally, many experts noted the need to expand the law to cover crimes committed using media and electronic forms of communication.

The author concludes that Saratov tolerates the existence of prostitution in the region, but is not inclined to legalize the phenomenon. According to the survey, the 62% of the people living in Saratov are against legalizing prostitution, including many of the experts and law students interviewed. To the question: “What type of negative consequences would the legalization of prostitution have?”, the citizens of Saratov ranked the options: a moral crisis, moral-ethical and physical degradation (70.5%); undermining the family unit, inflict negative impact on the next generation (56.5%); an increase in death and suicide rate, and degradation of health (24%); a rise in prostitution of friends and relatives (21%); a rise of price of sexual services (2%); an increase in corruption (1%). Formicheva concludes that dealing with the causes and systemic problems of prostitution is likely to be more effective than legalization.

Link to the original research in Russian: Fomicheva_Saratov_2013

NOTE: This is a direct summary of the original report in Russian. The content and views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of TraCCC. 

Contact TraCCC at