This article examines Russian criminologists’ engagements with emergent norms of international criminal law at the fin-de-siècle. In particular, it discusses attempts to end the ‘international traffic in pornography’ from the 1880s onwards, framing these attempts as key elements in the development of Russian ideas about sexual crime more broadly. For pre- and post-revolutionary Russian criminologists involved with the Hague-based International Union for Penal Law, the crime of trafficking in pornography was conceptualized as both a crime against the censor and also an offense that did specific harm to certain social groups, namely women and children. In this way, anxieties about gender and sex lay at the heart of the calls to ban the cross-border trade in obscenity, suggesting a particular biopolitical understanding of international security haunting early twentieth century international criminal law.
In the late 1940s, state socialist governments proclaimed that commercial sex did not exist under socialism. At the same time, they were enthusiastic participants in the drafting of a new UN Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others. This article explores state socialist involvement in the global moral reform drive accompanying the 1949 Convention. It traces the ideological coherence between Socialist Bloc and ‘Western’ delegations on the desirability of prostitution’s abolition. Conversely, it highlights splits on issues of jurisdiction, manifesting in the Soviet call for the eradication of the draft Convention’s ‘colonial clause’, which allowed states to adhere to or withdraw from international instruments on behalf of ‘non-self-governing territories’. We argue that critiques of the colonial clause discursively stitched together global moral reform and opposition to imperialism, according socialist and newly decolonized delegations an ideological win in the early Cold War.