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But times have changed. Plus the fact that people, sometimes more, and all of them men, wipe their feet on the mat every day. Or, as its employees put it more bluntly, brothel. In the old days prostitution in Russia worked in much the same way as it did in other parts of Europe. The authorities and public opinion condemned the trade in human bodies, but were less bothered about stopping it or punishing its perpetrators than they were about other offences. For example, a bundle of straw on a stick outside a house meant that a passerby might avail himself of sexual services there.
Clients would recognise the sign, but the police turned a blind eye to this blatant advertising. By the time of the Bolshevik Revolution, prostitution was regulated, at least in the bigger cities.
Prostitution as such was not a punishable offence, although pimping was. The public were generally sympathetic towards prostitutes. We meet them as characters in the work of many major Russian writers - Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Kuprin, Leskov — where they are treated as the victims of harsh social circumstances.
Prostitutes started talking about their rights and even tried to set up trade unions. The communist authorities, however, refused to accept workers in the oldest profession as members of the working class on a par with seamstresses or weavers.
In one incident Lenin sent a telegram to Nizhny Novgorod suggesting that several hundred prostitutes be shot for allegedly getting soldiers drunk on vodka.