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After the October revolution of , venereal diseases formed part of a long list of social phenomena that Soviet leaders deemed completely incompatible with socialist society. Official responses to the problem of venereal diseases swung between repression and welfare, advocating patient confidentiality on the one hand, and justifying interventions into the private sphere on the other.
A vivid illustration of this inconsistency can be seen in the city of Sevastopol in In this year, much to the horror of high command, sailors in the Black Sea fleet had the highest levels of venereal infection of any naval fleet in the world. Over fifteen per cent of all sailors were infected in the Black Sea fleet, compared with just under ten per cent for the entire Red Navy. Gamarnik speaking at a rally for Black Sea fleet sailors, Following this shocking revelation, naval high command and Sevastopol city authorities put forward several recommendations to combat epidemic disease.
In all of their recommendations, the source of venereal diseases was thought to be female, normally homeless or unemployed women who became prostitutes due to economic hardship. Even though prostitution was officially decriminalised following the October revolution, state authorities swung between rehabilitating and repressing women who worked in the commercial sex industry.
These institutions offered women infected with venereal diseases in most cases, prostitutes paid employment, lodgings, free medical treatment and the opportunity to learn a trade. The use of the labour dispensary to eradicate prostitution and venereal diseases illustrates that the early Soviet government regarded prostitution solely as an economic problem, and a profession that women turned to only in the absence of other work. From , labour dispensaries emerged in Moscow and other major cities.
In popular culture, the institutions were portrayed as overwhelmingly successful in reforming prostitutes into productive and conscious workers.