Advancing Freedom for Women and Girls
Donna M. Hughes
Professor and Carlson Endowed Chair
Women's Studies Program, University of Rhode Island
Northeast Women's Studies Association Annual Conference
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
March 5, 2005
I have always considered Women's Studies to be the academic arm of the Women's Liberation Movement. I have pursued my research and scholarship with the goal of advancing women's freedom and equality. I have done work on women and science, but my most activist scholarship has been on the trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and girls. My goals have been to document the violence against women that is inherent in sex trafficking, analyze the factors that cause and contribute to this complex system of violence and exploitation, raise the consciousness of concerned citizens about sex trafficking in their neighborhoods and around the world, and engage law and policy makers to create new remedies to assist victims and hold perpetrators accountable. I have conducted research projects on sex trafficking in Ukraine, Russia, the U.S. and South Korea, and the use of new information technologies, particularly the Internet, to traffic women and girls in Europe, Cambodia, and the United States. I have researched the involvement of mail-order-bride agencies in the trafficking of women in the countries of the former Soviet Union. And I have been involved in contemporary theoretical and policy debates on sex trafficking and prostitution. The term "sex trafficking" replaces the term "white slave trade" used at the turn of the 20th century. When feminists in the second wave of the women's movement again took up the work against trafficking, they used the word as an umbrella concept to encompass all practices of buying and selling women and children's bodies. According to Dorchen Leidholdt, one of the early activist lawyers against commercial sexual exploitation: "Trafficking, as we understood it, included American pornography, temple prostitution in India, military prostitution in the Philippines, street prostitution in Peru, and sex tourism from Europe to Asia." Now, the term "trafficking" has been narrowed by legislation, a U.N. Protocol, and common usage, so that one must now say sex trafficking, prostitution, and pornography to be comprehensive. I got involved in anti-trafficking work in the late 1980s and for ten years all the work I did was of the sort you can do with no money. I included material on trafficking in the courses I taught, participate in conferences, and wrote papers based on data that can be collected with few resources. Researching Trafficking in a Sexist Culture and Authoritarian Political System In 1998 and 1999, the U.S. government awarded the first grants for research on trafficking and I was a recipient of two of them. One was to research the trafficking of women and girls into the United States and the other one was to research the trafficking of women from Ukraine. The National Institute of Justice's joint research project with Ukrainian researchers was a unique and educational experience. It was the first time that NIJ funded a joint research project with international research partners. I learned a lot about the trafficking of women from Ukraine, and I also learned a lot about conducting research in a sexist culture and authoritarian system. In Ukraine, I found myself immersed in a culture with deeply sexist beliefs about women's nature, behavior, and motivation. Still following Soviet ideology, national interest was considered more important than individual rights. I learned how blatant corruption and authoritarianism can be. When I questioned police, government officials, and academic experts about trafficking, the responses I got often left me wondering if I was researching the trafficking of women or the manifestations of sexism. I was told that the reason so many...