The project of the investigative group «Woman. Prison. Society» about homosexuality and the penal system of the USSR and Russia — «The Outcasts»


Prison love and prison for love...

Project info

We collected people's testimonies about repressions against homosexuality in the USSR, post-Soviet time and nowadays.

Psychiatrist Ksenia saved gays from prisons in the Soviet years. Robert was condemned in Armenia for the «wrong» love in the ninetieth. Slava spent 15 years in Russian zones in the status of «offended». Nina met her love in prison. Oleg — a victim of a gang of «gay hunters». He was withdrawn from the election and sentenced for relationship with a minor. Famous homophobe Timur Bulatov calls for the return of a criminal article against «sodomy».
Read these and another stories, study the historical information and the current situation of LGBT in prisons, draw conclusions along with our experts.

Project participants

Prosecution of homosexuality in the USSR

«Five people usually rape one: the four, having crucified him, hold by hands and legs, and the fifth, having piled hard from above, carries out the intercourse…»
In 1933 the Soviet government criminalized same-sex relationships. The relevant Article of the Criminal Code defined punishment up to 5 years of imprisonment.

The Thaw era, which began after Stalin's death, didn't touch the fates of those who were convicted for the «wrong love», as the opinion of the state authorities. Homosexuality was still a crime prosecuted by incarcerating. The RSFSR Criminal Code Article 121 of 1960 practically repeated the previous one [154]. Due to various estimates, about 60,000 people were convicted for homosexual relations in the USSR for almost 60 years of existence of the relevant legislation. One of them – a hero of our project Robert, who was sentenced for a date with a young man.

Caste system and broken fates
Prison castes had existed in Russia since the tsarism times, but from the late 1930s of the XX century criminal system of dividing prisoners into unequal groups got a support of prison and camp administrations. The caste system had became a mechanism for suppressing dissenters.

Lev Klein's book «Another Love» was published in 2000 and it gathered both references to the history of literature and various memoirs of the «sittels» about homosexual relationships in the Soviet labour camps. Among them are cases of physical and moral violence of prisoners in relation to their inmates:

«Five people usually rape one: the four, having crucified him, hold by hands and legs, and the fifth, having piled hard from above, carries out the intercourse…»

«After being incarcerated, prisoners become a part of a local community, being identified in one of three large groups: «cronies», «muzhiki (men)» or «obizhenny'ye» («offended»). The most difficult life is for people from the lowest level of prison cast system».
Key Dates
The Soviet government decides to criminalize same-sex relationships
The Article of the Criminal Code defined the punishment for men who became participants of same-sex relationships — up to 5 years of imprisonment
7 марта 1934
7 марта 1934
Presidium of the USSR Central Executive Committee adopted a new version of the resolution
1 апреля 1934
1 апреля 1934
The Article was included in the Criminal Code of the RSFSR at a number 154-a:

«Sexual relations of a man with a man (pederasty) — deprivation of liberty for a term from three up to five years. Pederasty, done with the employment of force or use of the dependent situation of the victim — deprivation of liberty for a term from five to eight years»
The 121st Article was introduced instead of the 154th, but practically repeated the previous one:
«Sexual relations of a man with a man (pederasty) shall be punishable by imprisonment for a term up to five years. Pederasty, done with the employment of physical violence, threats, or against a minor, or with the use of the dependent situation of the victim, shall be punished by deprivation of liberty for a term up to eight years»
Homosexual relations are decriminalized in Russia
However, the men who served their sentences in Soviet camps for sodomy were not rehabilitated
The law on the prohibition of «propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations was adopted
Prison hierarchy today
After being incarcerated, prisoners become a part of a local community, being identified in one of three large groups: «cronies», «muzhiki (men)» or «obizhenny'ye» («offended»). The most difficult life is for people from the lowest level of prison cast system. In addition to the burdens of prison's life the «offended» are subjected to discrimination and indignity from inmates.

They are called in different ways: «roosters», «fagots», «lowered» or «omitted». Both in pre-trial detention centers and zones or «at large» these words are considered abusive. In cameras the «lowered» sometimes sleep under a shkonka (a bed), they use separate perforated utensils, they don't have the right to sit at a common table or touch other people's things. They perform the most dirty work: dusting, washing, cleaning the toilet bowls, etc.. They are deprived of the right to express their opinions. According to experts, about 40% of the «offended» are «workers», that means they are forced to have sex.

The subject of internal hierarchy in detention sites remains taboo and respectively low-probed. And if we can still hear about the abuses of the FPS officers, the human rights defenders and lawyers almost never talk about the daily discrimination of some prisoners by others. Some perceive it as a necessary inevitable evil, others try to avoid a «slippery» theme.

In Russia as of August 1, 2018 there were 587,111 people in the institutions of the penitentiary system. Almost 47,000 of them were women. Our heroes and experts believe that up to 70% of prisoners in male prisons can use the services of the «offended». According to the experts, at least 10-15% of male prisoners refer to the «offended», which means that their total number can reach 80 thousand people. Prohibited and often unprotected sex generates as the spread of HIV as psychological and even psychiatric problems of those who are almost daily abused sexually.

The worst thing is that the «offended» rarely understand their rights. After release most of ex-offended keep silence about the horrors they experienced in prison. Therefore the theme hasn't publicized widely.

«In Swedish there is no a concept «warden». Russian literal translation of a phrase is «looking after prisoners». Among prison staff there are two categories of employees: «looking after» (watching the convicts, workshops teachers) and medical staff.

In Russia same-sex contacts between prisoners are administrative offense: a person can be placed in a preliminary camera, can be deprived of appointments or refusal of parole. And other sanctions can be applied. There is no contraception, because the prison administration doesn't recognize existence of the relations between convicts. So, the number of HIV-positive people among the last mentioned grows.

In Sweden I haven't heard that same-sex relationships are violation of the mode. People in our prisons usually sit not really long, they have the right for appointments, including long visits for several days. We had two certain rooms where they could live and sleep together. Contraceptives are available.

About same-sex relationships. One woman sat in a prison I worked at. She was the out lesbian, but she had matrimonial visits in the room for appointments all the time.

People rights in prison are very limited. Therefore it is important to give everybody equal opportunities, without violating the rule of law. In Russia, as far as I understand, there is the system of inequality of prisoners. And gays are in the lowest caste».

Amanda Valentine
Ex-employee of the Swedish prison
«Homosexual contacts in a colony — administrative offense that causes placement to a punishment cell and even refusal of parole. Legally it is impossible to receive condoms in prison, it is forbidden. The result is the spread of HIV and venereal diseases among prisoners. The silence surrounding leads to the tragic consequences, because there are sorely lacking drugs for the treatment of human immunodeficiency virus in penitentiary system.

According to FPS about 60 thousand prisoners are HIV-infected. Many were infected after unprotected sex in prisons. As a prison expert I believe that it is necessary to exclude the punishment for same-sex links from the article of the Executive Penal Code, to provide access of service organizations to colonies, to make HIV statistics in the correctional system opened for researchers and society. These measures will help to stop HIV spreading in colonies and beyond».

Leonid Agafonov
The author of the project «Woman. Prison. Society», expert, prison observer
«HIV-positive people don't always apply for treatment, because they are afraid of publicity. I had a case: a young girl was contaminated. At once the doctors called her mother. That girl was shocked, her family was shocked. While she was registering in an AIDS centre, she felt constant condemnation from medics. It wasn't so easy. Therapy is expensive, especially foreign medicines. It costs 200-300 thousand rubles a year for a patient. Treatment sometimes doesn't help, then it's necessary to start all over again. The situation in prisons and colonies is much more difficult. It is really terrible. Convicts are infected with HIV in penitentiaries, but they often go free without knowing about their status. So the chain of infected has been proceeding. This system has to be changed. It's necessary to allow contraception to prisoners. Many of infected would have been living, they would begin new life, but instead of it they loose their chance. It is necessary to change the legislation, involve doctors and civil society to the discussion. Otherwise, it is impossible to cope with the problem».

Ksenia Barkhatova
Expert, medical lawyer
Despite the fact that criminal prosecution for same-sex relationships in Russia was repealed in 1993, the whole complex of repressive norms and the practice concerning people of LGBT remains. First, it is the discrimination enshrined in the legislation. Criminal Code provides different types of punishment for heterosexual and same-sex relationships. If it is a voluntary sex with a minor, a heterosexy man may be exempted from punishment if marries her. Such an option isn't provided by the law for homosexuals and lesbians. A story of a former counsel Oleg in this case is indicative.

One more thing is the law prohibited of so-called «promotion of non-conventional relations», which prevents the spread of information, education, public discussion. It leads to concealment and aggravation of existing problems, supports a household homophobia, causes an increase in hate crimes against LGBT.

In our culture marriage is permitted between heterosexual partners only, so gays and lesbians are deprived of an opportunity to have long appointments in prisons. My girl acquaintance whose beloved has died in prison still can't find out where her grave is. She gets answers to all her inquiries: «Data on the place of burial are reported only to relatives or the spouse». They say: «You are nobody to her». But they have lived for twenty years together... The Penal Enforcement Code establishes a ban on same-sex relationships in prison. The love becomes criminal. A person can be placed into the penalty box, forfeit the right to early release. Prison administration quite often uses these preventive measures selectively — with the purpose of pressure. And they can separate couples.

It is known that same-sex relations are widespread in prisons. Denial simply drives them into a «dark» zone. As a result – epidemic of HIV and other diseases, system sexual violence among prisoners. The prison hierarchy is constructed so that a gay or a bisexual can at once become a deprived outcast – the «offended». If a person doesn't inform about himself and his sexual orientation at once (having voluntarily gone to «petushatnik») and it becomes clear later, then everything can end absolutely badly for him. When I think about hundreds of thousands people who have passed through the «offended» experience, full of daily humiliations, lawlessness and violence, I feel fear and despair...

Alexey Sergeyev
Coordinator of Alliance of Heterosexuals and LGBT for Equality
Авторы проекта
Leonid Agafonov
the author of the project «Woman. Prison. Society»
Natalia Donskova
The project team
Alexey Sergeyev
Design and texts
Natalia Sivokhina
Olga Holodnaya
Marina Kvashnina
Photographer Olga Gutyeva (photoes of still lifes), journalist Lidiya Simakova, driver Vsevolod Nelayev.
Ksenia Negretova, Leonid Agafonov, Alexey Sergeyev, Ksenia Barkhatova, Amanda Valentine.

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