1st Edition

Prostitution in Twentieth-Century Europe

Edited By Sonja Dolinsek, Siobhán Hearne Copyright 2023

    This book places prostitution at the very centre of European history in the twentieth century. With its wide geographical focus from Italy to the USSR via Sweden, Germany, occupied Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, as well as the international stage of the United Nations, this book encourages comparative perspectives, which have the potential to question, deconstruct and re-adjust distinctions between western, eastern, northern and southern European historical experiences.

    This book moves beyond exploring state-regulated prostitution, which was the dominant approach to managing commercial sex across Europe in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. State regulation combined police surveillance, the registration of women selling sex (or suspected of doing so), and compulsory medical examinations for registered women, as well as various restrictions on personal movement and freedom. The nine chapters shift focus onto the decades after the abolition of state-regulated prostitution well into the second half of the twentieth century to examine the ruptures and continuities in state, administrative and policing practices following the end of widespread legal toleration. The varied chronology extends the parameters of existing historiography and explores how states grappled to understand, or impose control over, the commercial sex industry following the far-reaching social, economic and political upheaval of the Second World War.

    The chapters in this book were originally published as a special issue of European Review of History.

    Introduction: Prostitution in twentieth century Europe

    Sonja Dolinsek and Siobhán Hearne

    1. Prostitution as non-labour leading to forced labour: Vagrancy and Gender in Sweden and Stockholm, 1919–1939

    Yvonne Svanström

    2. Police and prostitution in Yugoslavia: a nuanced relationship

    Stefano Petrungaro

    3. Why we need a history of prostitution in the Holocaust

    Anna Hájková

    4. Tensions of abolitionism during the negotiation of the 1949 ‘Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others’

    Sonja Dolinsek

    5. Prostitution in socialist Yugoslavia: from Stalinism to the Yugoslav way

    Ivan Simic

    6. The new face of Italian prostitution in the aftermath of the Merlin Law: forms, debate and repression

    Liliosa Azara

    7. Selling sex under socialism: prostitution in the post-war USSR

    Siobhán Hearne

    8. ‘Cleaning up the cityscape’: managing commercial sex and city space in Cologne, 1956–1972

    Annalisa Martin

    9. Greek trans women selling sex, spaces and mobilities, 1960s–80s

    Nikolaos Papadogiannis


    Sonja Dolinsek has worked on a doctoral project on the transnational history of anti-trafficking and the politics of prostitution after 1945 with a focus on Germany, France, the United Kingdom and USA. She works at the Department of Media Studies at Paderborn University.

    Siobhán Hearne is a historian of gender and sexuality in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. She is the author of Policing Prostitution: Regulating the Lower Classes in Late Imperial Russia (2021), as well as various articles about prostitution, venereal diseases and pornography in imperial Russian and Soviet history.