By Kari Lerum & Shari Dworkin

For the last several years in the U.S., political discourse around marriage has been dominated by the issue of  same-sex couples (both the push to allow same sex couples into the institution of marriage, and the conservative religious push to keep them out). Two days ago the “gay marriage” issue was briefly upstaged in the news with a much older (now considered embarrassing) version of the not so distant U.S. marriage politics: “mixed race” marriages.

image from the Richmond ExaminerIn 1967 the U.S. Supreme Court declared that laws against “miscegenation” (referring to a mixture of “racial” genes, assumed in that context to have negative reproductive effects) were unconstitutional. The overturning of all anti-miscegenation laws was part of a much larger cultural/social/civil rights shift toward more tolerance for (and even support of!) equality between whites and non-whites. Of course, this didn’t and doesn’t eliminate racial discrimination, but the Supreme Court ruling was key in writing anti-racial discrimination around love and marriage into law. Thus, the news that surfaced on Thursday was received by many as a shock:

NEW ORLEANS – A Louisiana justice of the peace said he refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple out of concern for any children the couple might have. Keith Bardwell, justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish, says it is his experience that most interracial marriages do not last long.

“I’m not a racist. I just don’t believe in mixing the races that way,” Bardwell told the Associated Press on Thursday. “I have piles and piles of black friends. They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom. I treat them just like everyone else.”

Bardwell said he asks everyone who calls about marriage if they are a mixed race couple. If they are, he does not marry them, he said.

Bardwell said he has discussed the topic with blacks and whites, along with witnessing some interracial marriages. He came to the conclusion that most of black society does not readily accept offspring of such relationships, and neither does white society, he said.

“There is a problem with both groups accepting a child from such a marriage,” Bardwell said. “I think those children suffer and I won’t help put them through it.

(emphases mine)

Certainly this isn’t the last we will hear of this case. The couple is considering filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice. It is clear that Justice of Peace Bardwell was breaking the law. I expect (hope) that Bardwell will be censored in some way.

In addition to providing an example of contemporary racial injustice, and how love is always political, this judge’s reasoning harkens back to an ancient “one drop rule” belief — which was a justification for race-based slavery in the United States.

This story also bears some important and striking similarities with conservative religious arguments against same-sex couples becoming parents: We have heard versions of “ I think those children suffer” before, such as in Anita Bryant’s infamous “Save the Children” campaign in the late 1970s. Bryant’s claims about the harm toward children were reiterated — despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary — by Florida legislators banning same sex adoption for 30 yrs (just overturned last year), and countless other anti-gay political campaigns. States such as Utah and Mississippi simply bar adoption from unmarried couples (conveniently coinciding with laws against same-sex marriage).

When Proposition 8 was passed (striking down gay marriage in California) on November 4, 2008, some gay rights activists invoked the 1967 Supreme Court ruling as a lesson in how social justice matters should not be subject to popular vote. This is because cultural attitudes often lag behind social justice. In the words of ACLU attorney Katie Schwartzmann (quoted in the story above): “It is really astonishing and disappointing to see this come up in 2009,” …. this, in spite of the 1967 ruling “that the government cannot tell people who they can and cannot marry.”

As least for this couple, let’s hope they get justice from the law.



Last Saturday (Oct 10, 2009)  Craig Calhoun,  president of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), released a new statement on the historical and contemporary trajectories of, and need for, public social science. Because Dr. Calhoun’s work directly bears on the mission of Sexuality & Society (and all of, I thought that it would be useful to provide a link to the article,  “Social Science and Public Knowledge.” If you don’t care to read the article in its entirety right now, below are two snippets:

“Public social science depends on addressing public issues imagesand informing public  understanding. Simply reaching a broader public is only part of the story. Certainly a social science turned in on itself fails to achieve much public significance. But more important than the desire to promulgate what social scientists know is the effort to bring knowledge to bear on pressing public issues.”


“Addressing public issues does not mean merely bringing social science to already clearly formulated problems. It means analyzing why problems are posed in particular ways and what the implications are. It means asking whether certain ways of stating the issues make it harder to find resolutions. It means locating blind spots and questioning whether taken-for-granted appearances are as real or transparent as they seem. This is one of the ways in which situating contemporary issues and proposed solutions in comparative and historical contexts is vital. Although critical theory has alas been allowed to become a heavily academic field, the tasks of critique are not of merely academic significance but rather of considerable public import.”


Calhoun’s statement reiterates the importance of public scholarship, including the groundbreaking journal work of Contexts, and the work of Barbara Risman and other prominent sociologists to bring a Council of Social Science Advisors (CSSA) to the president of the United States. Bravo!

Last summer a news headline caught my eye: “US to Malaysia: Stop Human Trafficking Quickly.” Headlines from southeast Asian presses followed, including “Malaysia outcry at US trafficking blacklisting,” and “Malaysia ‘immune’ to U.S. criticism of human trafficking.” When Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd met with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak last July, he “praised Malaysia’s energetic efforts to curb human trafficking”  ….“despite the fact that Malaysia was just downgraded to Tier 3 from Tier 2 in the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report 2009 by the US Department of State.”Rudd-Najib

These public state-level conversations about trafficking made me curious: Who gave the US the authority to define global trafficking? What authority does the US have in dictating standards for other countries? What happens if “they” (in this case, Malaysian officials) don’t listen? And how much emphasis is placed on “sexual trafficking” in these political conversations?

These questions have led me into a fascinating world of sexual politics — intersecting with domestic and international trafficking policies; heath, human, and labor rights issues; US conservative religious advocacy groups; and US global power. This post will be the first in a series to explain and analyze the contemporary anti-trafficking movement. In this first post, my point is simply to:

  • explain the scope and purpose of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and
  • briefly introduce “demand-side” versus “supply-side” approaches to labor exploitation.


Scope and purpose of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act:

In the year 2000, U.S. Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act designed to address severe forms of trafficking. “Severe forms of trafficking” is defined by the TVPA as:

  • sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or
  • the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, though the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.                                                   [Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report 2009, Pp. 6-7]

Note that sex trafficking is considered a separate category from labor trafficking, reinforcing the notion that “sex” and “labor” are mutually exclusive. (This, despite two decades of sex work activism arguing for legitimate recognition of sexual labor (e.g., Jenness 1990; Chapkis 1997; Nagel 1997).

Note also that the TVPA lists sex trafficking prior to other forms of trafficking. Just a coincidence? Given the common media conflation of “human trafficking” with “sex trafficking,” as well as President G.W. Bush’s emphasis on the “special evil” of sex trade victims (Lopez, 2006, p. 4), I doubt that it is a coincidence that sex trafficking leads the list.

While people are free to have their opinions on what forms of labor exploitation constitute a “special evil,” in terms of actual numbers the case is clear: the International Labor Organization (the same source cited by the US State Department) estimates that the VAST number of trafficking cases are NOT sex trafficking cases: Approximately 11 out of 12 constitute OTHER forms of labor exploitation (TIP report 2009, p. 8).

State Department monitoring & sanctioning:

Since the passage of the TVPA, the Department of State has been required to provide a report on the status of “foreign governments’ efforts to eliminate severe forms of trafficking in persons”  [p. 5, TIP 2009].  This past June (2009) the State Department released its ninth annual Trafficking in Persons report where every country in the world is rated on a scale of 1-3 based on “the extent of government action to combat trafficking.” (TIP report 2009, p. 11). It was in this report that Malaysia was “blacklisted” or moved from “Tier 2 watch list” to “Tier 3.”

Put in academic terms, Professor State Department just gave Malaysia an “F.” So now what?

According to the State Department, “…governments of countries on Tier 3 may be subject to certain sanctions, whereby the U.S. Government may withhold nonhumanitarian, non-trade-related foreign assistance.” Additionally, “governments subject to sanctions would also face U.S. opposition to assistance (except for humanitarian, trade-related assistance) from international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.” (TIP report 2009, p. 13). The State Department claims that “(i)mposed sanctions will take effect October 1, 2009.” (TIP report 2009, p. 13).

As of this writing (Oct. 8, 20090 I have not yet seen any evidence that sanctions have been imposed against Malaysia. (Readers: please let me know if you have any news on this).

Demand-side vs. Supply-side strategies:

The US State department assesses foreign anti-trafficking activities based on “the three P’s”: Prosecution, protection, and prevention. The first two are fairly straightforward: does the government in question punish “traffickers” and provide protection for those who are “trafficked?” The third criteria, “prevention” has more room for interpretation. For the US State department, at least at the present moment, “prevention” is tilted toward the “demand side” of the equation — in other words, reducing consumer desire for trafficked goods and services. This includes punishing not just the “traffickers” but the “consumers” of trafficked goods. In the context of the sex industry, this means punishing the “johns” as well as the “pimps.” (e.g., see TIP report 2009, p. 32).

In contrast, a “supply-side” approach to prevention would focus on reducing the economic, social, and cultural conditions that make children and adults vulnerable to abuse and labor exploitation. In this paradigm, interventions would focus on reducing poverty, sexism, racism, and other forms of inequality. Supply-side approaches to prevention would not eliminate the first two “P’s” (Prosecution and protection); it would simply add a social-structural safety net of laws and services (e.g. child labor and welfare laws) to the strategy of finding “bad guys” to punish.

For those trained in sociology, this is a no-brainer: OF COURSE we need to incorporate supply-side approaches. So what’s up with the demand-side emphasis of current US policy?

The current “demand-side” emphasis of all three “P’s” of the TVPA is a reflection of those who initially brought the issue of human trafficking to the US political table. This includes Donna Hughes, a Women Studies professor (trained in genetics) who has spent nearly twenty years as an anti sex-trafficking activist. As an abolitionist (someone who advocates the complete abolition of the sex industry), Hughes applauds the demand-side, punish-the-bad-guys approach to eliminating trafficking and in particular, prostitution (Lopez, p. 4). Hughes applauds former President G.W. Bush for his “crucial” role in this demand-side approach:

“In October 2003, at the United Nations, President Bush called upon world leaders to come to the assistance of victims of the sex trade…..He addressed the demand for victims, by saying, ‘Those who patronize this industry debase themselves and deepen the misery of others’.”

Hughes goes on to say, “by supporting the abolitionist work against the global sex trade, he (Bush) has done more for women and girls than any one other president I can think of.  …. Years from now, when the anti-Bush hysteria has died away, I believe he will be recognized as a true advocate for women’s freedom and human rights.” (Hughes, quoted in Lopez, p. 6).

WOW. It’s not every day that you hear a Women Studies professor call President G.W. Bush a “true advocate for women’s freedom and human rights”!

For the second post in this series on the sexual politics of anti-trafficking efforts, click here.


The Tiers, as defined by the TVPA:

TIER 1: Countries whose governments fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s  (TVPA) minimum standards

TIER 2:  Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards

TIER 2 WATCH LIST:  Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards AND:  a) The absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing; or b) There is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year; or c) The determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional future steps over the next year

TIER 3: Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.

(Source: TIP report 2009, p. 49)



I learned this morning that this first week of October is National Sex Education week (I’m not sure how these weeks get to be declared, but a quick google search confirms that a number of reproductive health organizations are on board).

In what seems to NOT be a coincidence in timing, Rebublican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah introduced a proposal this week to restore $50 million a year in federal funding to abstinence-only sex education (the same funding that Obama has vowed to eliminate).

In his statement to the press, Hatch proclaims that:

Orrin Hatch

“Abstinence education works”  … “My amendment restores a vital funding stream so that teens and parents have the option to participate in programs that have demonstrated success in reducing teen sexual activity and, consequently, teen pregnancies.”

In response to this news, Elisabeth Garber-Paul of RH Reality Check writes:

I thought we all decided that abstinence only education doesn’t work. And I don’t mean “we” as in the pro-choice reproductive rights community—I mean students, teachers, parents, school boards, and even the president.

But I guess some members of congress didn’t get the memo.

It *is* really striking how, even in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, Abstinence-only proponents insist that this form of education “works.”

But this is because the movement toward more abstinence-only approaches is driven almost entirely by conservative religious ideology, not scientifically reliable evidence.

Virtually no public health professionals and no credible scientific assessments support it (Santelli et al 2006c). In fact, public health scholars broadly support comprehensive sex education (Duberstein et al 2006) and have offered vociferous critiques of abstinence based approaches and policies, both domestically (Fortenberry 2005; Santelli et al. 2006 et al. 2006a; 2006b; Dworkin and Santelli 2007) and internationally (Human Rights Watch 2004; Cohen and Tate, 2005). The majority of parents in the United States also report that they prefer comprehensive sex education for their children (Henry Kaiser Family Foundation 1998; National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy 2003).

Fortunately, Hatch’s proposal (which barely passed in the Senate Finance Committee by 12-11), will still need House and Senate approval. Let’s hope that our Representatives in the House and Senate consult with credible public health researchers before they vote on this important topic.



  • Cohen, J. and Tate, T. (2005). “The less they know, the better: Abstinence-only HIV/AIDS programs in Uganda.” Human Rights Watch. Available:;reports/2005/uganda0305/uganda0305.pdf.
  • Dworkin, S. and Santelli, J. (2007). “Do Abstinence-Plus Interventions Reduce Sexual Risk Behavior among Youth?” PLoS Medicine 4, 9, e276.
  • Fortenberry, J.D. (2005). “The Limits of abstinence-only in preventing sexually transmitted infections.” Journal of Adolescent Health 36, 269-270.
  • Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation/ABC Television. 1998. Sex in the 90s: 1998 National Survey of Americans on Sex and Sexual Health.
  • Human Rights Watch. (2004). “The Philippines. Unprotected: Sex, Condoms, and the Human Right to Health.” New York: Human Rights Watch, May 2004.
  • National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. 2003. With One Voice: America’s Adults and Teens Sounds Off About Teen Pregnancy. Washington, D.C.: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
  • Santelli, J.S. et al. (2006a). “Abstinence and abstinence-only education: A review of U.S. policies and programs.” Journal of Adolescent Health 38, 72-81.
  • Santelli, J.S. et al. (2006b). “Abstinence-only education policies and programs: Aposition paper of the Society for Adolescent Medicine.” Journal of Adolescent Health 38, 83-87.
  • Santelli, J.S. et al. (2006c). Letters to the Editor. “The Authors Reply.” Journal of Adolescent Health 39, 152-153.





Turk/Greek marriage an act of resistanceTwo lovers bravely crossing social lines of family ties, class, ethnicity, race, religion, and more, all in the name of love. It’s the time worn story of Romeo and Juliet. The latest media rendition of this story comes from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, a land of both love (considered to be “the birthplace of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love”) and war (literally divided by ethnic warfare between Turkish and Greek Cypriots for more than three decades.)

Here’s a clip from the news story about Murat Kanati (a Turkish Cypriot) and Georgia Chappa (a Greek Cypriot):

…like the other 800,000 Greek Cypriots and 200,000 Turkish Cypriots, Chappa and Kanatli grew up in total isolation from each other, on an island less than half the size of New Jersey (a third the size of Belgium).

Change came in 2003, when Turkish Cypriot authorities opened four checkpoints to allow movement between the two sides. One of those who came across was Kanatli. He met Chappa at an inter-communal gathering in Nicosia the following year.

They quickly discovered they had a common interest — breaking down barriers. Chappa, 38, a clinical dietitian, is involved with a women’s group, Hands Across the Divide. Kanatli, 36, leads the New Cyprus Party, a small leftist group that preaches rapprochement.

Romance followed, and so did trouble.

At first they kept their families in the dark, and when they finally let out the secret, there were misgivings. “Both sets of parents I guess, they tried not to meet, or to get to know, find out about the person their child was going out with because it was easier to keep to … the stereotype,” … said Chappa…

But things gradually eased up. “The last family meetings for both parents, it’s more relaxed,” says Kanatli. “They get it as a relationship between one girl and one boy…we’ve come to that stage.”

Stories like this have fueled the likes of William Shakespeare and Walt Disney for eons.  However for those looking for an analysis of these stories, Sociologist William Goode’s classic 1959 article, “The theoretical importance of love” (American Sociological Review) continues to be a valuable guide.

Goode is one of the first to offer a global theory of love – specifically, on the social regulation of love (and hence, sexuality). He (and later social historians such as Stephanie Coontz) explains that historically, economic alliances, not love, were the basis of marriage. Sexual unions were a separate matter from both love and marriage. But the control of love and sexuality becomes particularly important when property and social status is at stake. Since love alliances are potentially disruptive of lineages and class strata, they must be regulated.

Goode labels and describe 5 types of love regulation seen historically and globally: child marriage, kinship rules, social isolation, close supervision, and “formally free.”

Regardless of the severity of regulation, the regulation of love and sexuality works to maintain distinctions between outsiders and insiders. It also maintains class, race, and gender hierarchies (with people “higher up” being more concerned with love regulations).  Based on this principle, we can predict that highly stratified societies (by class, race, religion or other criteria) will be more concerned with love regulation than less stratified societies.

As Cyprus becomes gradually less stratified between Turks and Greeks, the regulation of love between those groups will loosen. Ironically enough, though, it is possible that the loosening of this ethnic regulation may be facilitated by the rising visibility of a new “outsider”:  the gay Cypriot.  As the groom in this story states: “They get it as a relationship between one girl and one boy…we’ve come to that stage.”

Image from KUOW weekdayRecently I was invited to be a guest on Seattle’s NPR station, KUOW (94.9 FM). The topic: “The Future of Adult Entertainment in Seattle.” If you don’t want to spend the next hour listening to the entire program (I come in about 20 mins into the show) here’s a recap with some extra points that I didn’t have time for on the air.

Strip clubs are a point of contention in many communities in the US. Despite its liberal reputation, Seattle is no different. When the Seattle City council recently voted to lift a moratorium on construction of new adult businesses, familiar concerns began to be aired.

Across the US, arguments against strip clubs (and adult entertainment in general) tend to come in two or three forms:

  1. Strip clubs are bad for neighborhoods (i.e. causing increases in crime & declines in property values).
  2. Strip clubs are bad for families and children (creating inappropriate role models for children).
  3. Occasionally in these community debates, some also argue that strip clubs are bad for women  (For space purposes, I will take up #3 in later blog posts).

There are a number of rebuttals to these arguments. First, regarding the argument that strip clubs cause increases in crime and declines in property values:

  • Although many people believe that crime rates are higher around strip clubs and other adult businesses, studies have repeatedly found that this is not true.
  • More complex is the concern about declining real estate values. Many people believe that strip clubs actually “cause” declines in surrounding property value. While at times there is a correlation between the two, it is important to examine how developers and policy makers shape this connection. Real estate developers can be and are major players in adult entertainment regulation; in Seattle, real estate interests were crucial in the redevelopment of First Avenue (AKA “flesh avenue”).
  • Why are real estate developers so invested in matters related to commodified sexuality? Although real estate developers may not personally oppose adult entertainment, they are often faced with economic and emotional hurdles:  1) Zoning laws that prohibit adult businesses within a certain zone of single family homes, schools, churches (thus, if a developer wants to construct single family homes in an area, he or she has a strong economic incentive to oppose the existence of strip clubs in that area), and 2) The assumption that adult entertainment businesses are inherently sleazy, dangerous, scary places (which can become a self-fulfilling prophecy). By marginalizing adult businesses to lonely highway roads and industrial areas, this fulfills the expectation that adult businesses should be hidden. It also means that sexual businesses owners are not expected to contribute as community partners in civic matters.
  • There are examples in Seattle that defy the expectation that sex in the pubic sphere is inherently scary, dangerous, and mutually exclusive to a healthy community. Two well known counter-examples are the Lusty Lady (a peep show across the street from the Seattle Art Museum) and Babeland (a sex toy store). For many years, both have playfully, peacefully, and productively coexisted with other businesses, community groups, and high end condos.
  • In sum, the association between declining real estate values and strip clubs is neither obvious nor inherent, and certainly not causal. In some cases there may even be a positive relationship.

The second main argument against strip clubs – that these establishments are bad for families and children –assumes that adult business employees are hostile and harmful to minors (either specifically, or in general, just by their presence). One proposition I posed for the radio audience, and will pose for readers here as well, is the advantage of using the topic of strip clubs as a way to open up, rather than close down, conversation between parents and kids.

Sexual literacy and media literacy are both increasingly important in our media saturated world. Scholars in these fields consistently stress the need not to censor material simply due to sexual material, but rather to have thoughtful discussions.  Whether these discussions are on the radio, online, in the classroom, or at the dinner table, thoughtful policy comes from curiosity about the connections between personal morals and cultural, political, and economic realities.

US governmentcouple in churchmuslim women nude bust statue
woman slouchedWelcome to the new blog, Sexuality & Society!

This blog is dedicated to exploring connections between sexuality, social institutions, cultural practices, sexual health, and policy. If you are interested in being a contributor to this blog please contact us. We are excited to begin this adventure in blogging with you!

Kari Lerum, Ph.D., University of Washington, Bothell

Shari Dworkin, Ph.D., M.S., University of California, San Francisco

dancing couple
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