Today is election day in the U.S. In my home state of Washington, voters today will decide on the spousal rights of same sex couples (should these couples and families be able to retain “everything but marriage” as signed by Governor Christine Gregoire, or should they not?). While anxiously awaiting the election returns I turned to the story of how a High Court in India recently ruled to decriminalize homosexual sex. Khushbu Srivastava, from the International Women’s Health Coalition, discusses a recent academic panel on the India decision:

While the panel topic was focused on litigation, all the panelists agreed that the single biggest factor that resulted inK. Srivastava the repeal of 377 was the change in mentality of judges, parliamentarians and everyday Indians since the petition was filed in 2001. Activists in India have led painstaking efforts in India to increase awareness about how HIV/ AIDS cannot be addressed in a punitive environment and to increase support for the rights of LGBTQI people (Click here for the entire post).

A very similar story can be told about the gay rights movement in the U.S., with enormous shifts in public understanding and awareness over the past several years. There are many differences in the cultural/economic/social/religious milieus of India and the U.S., but one difference we witness today is the tenuous nature of sexual/civil rights when they are subjected to popular vote. One year ago today, a slim majority (52%) of voters in California voted to overturn Gay Marriage. How will Washington State voters respond today?


In this third post on the contemporary anti-trafficking movement, I evaluate the degree to which the Obama administration has taken a turn away from the sexual politics of the Bush administration in its approach to trafficking, as well as global health funding (click here for the first and second posts).

It is no secret that the Bush administration was vastly at odds with the scientific community on many issues, including global warming, stem cell research, and sexual health matters such as HIV/AIDS research and sex education. Obama’s campaign and election has brought widespread support from the scientific community; prior to his election 61 Nobel laureates publicly endorsed Obama’s science policy.

While many changes have occurred since Obama’s inauguration in January 2009, I focus here on four indicators of change around global sexual health and anti-trafficking efforts:

  • the appointment of Dr. Eric Goosby as US Global AIDS Coordinator,
  • the appointment of Luis de Baca as the director of the Trafficking in Persons office,
  • the content and tone of the 2009 Trafficking in Persons report (in comparison to previous TIP reports), and
  • the status of the anti-prostitution pledge requirement for USAID funding

1) On the appointment of Dr. Eric Goosby, PlusNews Global HIV/AIDS news and analysis reports:


“Just three weeks into his new appointment, United States Global AIDS Coordinator Dr. Eric Goosby outlined …some of the changes that President Barack Obama’s administration will make to the country’s global AIDS policy …

“Goosby … made it clear the scientific evidence rather than moral concerns would drive intensified eforts to reach high-risk groups — men who have sex with men, injecting drug users and sex workers — with HIV prevention and care” (emphasis mine).

2) On the appointment of Luis de Baca to head the Trafficking in Persons Office, according to Kathleen Franke, Professor and director of the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law at Columbia University:

“de Baca’s appointment is very good news.  Mr. de Baca, a lawyer who has worked as legislative counsel for the House Judiciary Committee de Bacaand in the Justice Department as chief counsel of Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit is a smart, experienced and effective choice for the job.   He has worked for years on this issue and is very-well respected in criminal justice and advocates’ circles alike for his approach to this difficult problem.  He was one of the lead DOJ attorneys who successfully prosecuted Kil Soo Lee, the former owner of an American Samoa garment factory, who was sentenced to 40 years in prison for his role in illegally confining and using as forced labor over 200 Vietnamese and Chinese garment workers.” (“Good news on U.S. Anti-Trafficking Policy.” Gender and Sexuality Law Blog, March 25, 2009.)

3) On the 2009 Trafficking in Persons report. Melissa Ditmore , who has a Ph.D. in sociology and has worked for many years as a sex work scholar and activist, is one of several hopeful readers of the 2009 TIP report:

“I’m encouraged by the greater recognition of trafficking into a wide variety ofMelissa Ditmore workplaces, the concern for people who have been unjustly imprisoned, and the lack of sensationalism when discussing sex work. …

“Enforcing existing labor laws such as wage and hour provisions is one way to address abuses in many workplaces, particularly in factories and agriculture. Expanding these provisions to address domestic workers (they are not offered such protections now) would benefit maids and nannies and other live-in employees. Obama emphasized evidence and efficacy in his inauguration speech – these are a few examples of opportunities to act” (“Trafficking Report: Less Sensationalism, more Reality.” Rh Reality Check, June 23. 2009).

4) On the status of the anti-prostitution pledge requirement for USAID funding. As reported in my second post in this series, in 2006 this was found to violate first amendment rights of U.S. organizations attempting to provide public health services (see: Pepfar watch). The Bush Administration filed an appeal on this decision one week before Bush left office. In July of 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice under Obama dropped its appeal. Jodi Jacobsen, founder and former director of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) reports that this move by the Obama DOJ is being heralded by the public health community:

“in withdrawing the appeal “without predjudice,” the Obama DOJJodi Jacobsen retains the right to resubmit an appeal by January 8, 2010. Many advocates are hopeful that the Administration will use the intervening time to closely review the negative i plications of this policy for HIV prevention work in the field.” (Read more at:

So now, with these revisions and appointments in place, all that most of us can do is watch to see how they are implemented. Rest assured I will be watching and posting an update on any DOJ movement on the anti-prostitution pledge around January 8, 2010. And for right now, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Pakistan, the U.S. State Department has an opportunity to show its commitment to ending “modern day slavery” in Pakistan.  In a story published by Time magazine earlier this week, we learn of three landlords holding their debt-bonded workers as hostages:

“As Hillary Clinton pays her first visit to Pakistan as Secretary of State, an unfolding hostage crisis will test the Obama Administration’s rhetoric on human rights in the region. Officials at the U.S. embassy in Islamabad say at least three landlords have held as many as 170 bonded farmworkers at gunpoint on their estates in the country’s southeast Sindh province since late September. With U.S. attention focused on getting Pakistan to deal with huge security issues to Washington’s satisfaction, will Clinton be able to press Islamabad’s rulers to address a controversy involving rural poverty and modern-day slavery?

The crisis began after the workers’ advocates successfully petitioned three district courts to declare as illegal the debts that the landlords were using to compel the workers into indentured servitude. Those debts average around 1,000 Pakistani rupees — roughly $12. The hostages, a third of whom are children, some as young as 4 months old, are landless peasants, known as haari in Urdu. According to Ghulam Hyder, a spokesman for Pakistan’s Green Rural Development Organization, the landlords have killed one hostage already and are threatening to kill the others unless they drop the cases and return to work. The landlords also abducted Amarchand Bheel, an advocate for the laborers, as he traveled to court to plead their cause.

A 2004 study by the International Labour Office (ILO) estimated that there are up to a million haari families in Sindh alone, the majority living in conditions of debt bondage, which the U.N. defines as modern-day slavery. Last fall, Pakistan’s Daily Times newspaper quoted the labor minister of neighboring Punjab province as saying that landlords hold millions of forced laborers in “private prisons” across the country (emphasis mine).

Thanks to Obama, de Baca, and others on the TIP team, the U.S. State Department can finally begin to recognize the full range and magnitude of highly oppressive working conditions (most of which entail stories such as the one above). Let’s hope that U.S. responses to the situation in Pakistan and elsewhere are measured, non-sensationalist, and extend far beyond simple demand-side strategies (i.e. “shaming and naming” the consumers of goods and services produced in oppressive conditions).

See also:

I’ve been reading Dan Savage since the day of his first publication of the now nearly iconic Seattle alternative newspaper, The Stranger, in the early 1990s — this was before the Savage’s advice column, “Savage Love” became syndicated and before his appearances with Anderson Cooper on CNN.  I would pick up The Stranger on the steps of Savery Hall and read it before and after my graduate classes in classical and feminist theory. Though not an “academic,” Savage introduced a sort of Pop-Queer Theory to University of Washington’s students prior to any formal classes in this area. For this, I credit to Savage as being one of several key cultural workers who indirectly supported the development of cutting edge (third wave feminist, postmodern, queer) sexuality and gender scholarship. In that spirit, I’m going to share with Sexuality & Society readers some quintessential Dan Savage analysis — on Halloween as a Heterosexual Pride paradevignette2-570. Just a head’s up: the language here is bawdier than our typical format at Sexuality & Society (I’ve cut out some sections but you can read the entire story from the link above). Savage unfortunately employs the same repression/release analysis long ago refuted by Foucault and other critical sexuality scholars. He also often tends to glide over issues of sexism, and doesn’t mention the use of race or class stereotypes in the production of some halloween performances. However, other points I think are worth considering. There is certainly much here for analysis as a cultural text. Let us know what you think and Happy Heteroween!

(thanks to David Ryder for this story!)


I’m often asked—confronted—about gay pride parades when I speak at colleges and universities. Usually it’s a conservative student, typically someone who isn’t happy about my being invited to campus in the first place. We gay people like to pretend that we’re all about love and marriage, the conservative student will insist, but look at your pride parades! Look at those guys in assless chaps and all those bare-chested lesbians dancing! Just look! The exchange almost always ends with this:

Conservative student: “Straight people don’t flaunt our sexuality like that. We don’t have straight ‘pride’ parades.”

Me: “You should.”

And it seems clearer with every passing Halloween that straight people do.

Back in the bad old days—pre-Stonewall, pre-pride-parades, pre-presidential-gay-history- month-proclamations—Halloween was the gay holiday. It was the one night of the year when you could leave the house in leather or feathers without attracting the attentions of the police. Halloween resonated for pre-Stonewall homosexuals because the closeted life—out to a select few friends, closeted at work and home—was a stressful masquerade that never ended. We were good at masks, at pretense, at dressing up, because we had to be in order to survive. Halloween took our skill set—pretending to be what we are not—and allowed us to find joy in it one night a year.

While Halloween is still celebrated by gays and lesbians, it’s no longer the most important date on the gay calendar. Oh, we keep it, but we don’t keep holy. It’s just another excuse for a party—and we’re always on the lookout for an excuse—but Halloween has been downgraded, displaced by other and better excuses for parties, by pride parades and Folsoms and the weekend. There are still parties in gay bars on Halloween, of course, and you’ll see plenty of homos in costume on Capitol Hill this weekend. But Halloween belongs to heterosexuals now.

And you need it more than we do. Straight people in Brazil have Carnival, straight Northern Europeans have Fasching, straight people in New Orleans have Mardi Gras—all big public parties where straight people show their tits, shake their asses, and flaunt their sexualities. Booze companies attempted to make a national holiday out of Mardi Gras, without much success. But straight people seem to have made a collective unconscious decision to adopt Halloween instead.

You made a good choice, straight people, a better one than the booze companies were trying to make for you. Whereas the pride parade is now the big public celebration of queer sexuality with all its squalor and glamour, Halloween is now the big public celebration of straight sexuality, of heterosexual desire, every bit—tit?—as squalid and glamorous.

We don’t resent you for taking Halloween as your own. We know what it’s like to keep your sexuality under wraps, to keep it concealed, to be on your guard and under control at all times. While you don’t suffer anywhere near the kind of repression we did (and in many times and places still do), straight people are sexually repressed, too. You move through life thinking about sex, constantly but keenly aware that social convention requires you to act as if sex were the last thing on your mind. Exhausting, isn’t it? It makes you long for moments when you can let it all hang out, when you can violate the social taboos you honor most of the rest of time, when you can be the piece of meat you are and treat other people like the pieces of meat they are.

It’s that kind of pressure—pressure to conform and maintain—that makes you want to pull on a pair of assless chaps and march down the street, the kind of pressure that cries out for some form of organized mass release. It’s the kind of pressure that a pride parade—straight or gay, Mardi Gras or Halloween—can release.

Right now things are a little unfair—a little—on the gender front. Straight girls are expected to show flesh on Halloween; straight boys aren’t. Sadly, I don’t foresee that changing anytime soon. People who want to f… men—straight and bi girls, gay and bi guys—show flesh because it works, it will attract positive male attention. (Well, that depends on how you feel about male attention, I guess.) … Straight guys don’t have the same incentive to bare their flesh on Halloween.

It’s a shame, of course, because there are a lot of straight guys out there who have amazing bodies, and they should be encouraged to show off on Halloween, to celebrate their erotic power and do like the gay boys do: objectify and be objectified at the same time. That would make the straight pride parades, aka Halloween, feel as egalitarian as the gay pride parades on which they were unconsciously modeled.

Every year around Halloween, I see some columnist or blogger or other talk about how ‘Halloween is just an excuse for girls and women to whore it up all night,'” writes nicolechat on a post at “But every time I read that, I think to myself, so what? What’s wrong with having a night where we can say ‘This is my body, and I’m not ashamed of it, or of using it to express my sexuality.'”

Nothing at all, nicolechat. Heterosexuals in North America have needed a holiday like this for a long, long time. And now you’ve got one in Halloween. It’s yours now, straight people. Be good to it. And remember: Wrap those bandages loosely, and by midnight your boyfriend’s “mummy” costume will be just as revealing as that off-the-rack “sexy witch” costume you bought at Champion.

Happy Heteroween. recommended

Debates about Gardasil (aka the “cervical cancer vaccine”) have up until this point focused on girls and young women. By focusing on cervical cancer,  rather than on HPV (what the vaccine is really for) — debates on this issue have completely sidestepped around the issue that, of course, boys and men get HPV too. Shouldn’t they also get vaccinated? What will happen now that the debate isn’t just about girls’ sexuality?

I came across this story through sister sociologist/Huffington post blogger, Abby Ferber. In her post, entitled “Cervix Not Required,”  Ferber interviews Adina Nack, professor of medical sociology and sexuality studies at California Lutheran University and author of the the book, Damaged Goods? Women Living with incurable Sexually Transmited Diseases (Temple U. Press, 2008). I quote from Ferber’s interview with Nack below:

headshotFerber: Last Friday, the FDA approved the Gardasil vaccine for use in boys and men ages 9 to 26 years old. When I heard this news, I was surprised. My daughter received the vaccine from her physician, and I had always thought of this as a “cervical cancer vaccine.” The reality, however, is that this is a HPV vaccine, to guard against the sexually transmitted Human Papillomavirus. Why, however, is it only now being approved for males, when it was approved three years ago for females? … Why do you think Merck first sought FDA approval of Gardasil only for women?

Adina Nack, Ph.D._11-08C1-1Nack: Only going through the FDA testing and approval process for women allowed Merck to brand Gardasil as a ‘cervical cancer’ vaccine. Prior to the recent FDA approval of Gardasil for use on male patients, most Gardasil ads have claimed to empower girls and young women with a new tool to protect against cervical cancer. But, it is not clear how many Americans have understood that they were being sold a vaccine designed to protect against a STI.

Ferber: In your book and blog posts, you talk about the stigma connected with sexually transmitted infections (STIs) being gender-based. How are attitudes about STIs reflected in the initial branding and marketing of Gardasil as a cervical cancer vaccine?

Nack: As early as 2005, some organizations have been outing Gardasil as a STI vaccine and arguing that inoculating young adolescents against HPV would encourage teenage sexual promiscuity. The heads of various “family values” groups publicly declared that they would not vaccinate their own children. So, some have questioned whether Merck’s decisions to only seek initial FDA approval for female use and to brand it a ‘cervical cancer’ vaccine may have been motivated by a desire to distance the vaccine (and those who receive it) from the negative stereotypes we have about STIs and the types of people who contract them. On one hand, it is reasonable to assume that most U.S. parents would not be eager to have their daughters, as young as 9 years old, vaccinated against 4 strains of a virus that is primarily transmitted by sexual contact. After all, studies have shown that we’re more likely to assign negative traits – like promiscuity, irresponsibility, naivety, and unintelligence – to girls and women who contract STIs than to boys and men who contract the same infections. The Council on Contemporary Families has a forthcoming study showing that, while equality has increased in many areas, sexual-behavior double standards persist. In the U.S. and many other countries, a female patient who seeks out a STI vaccine often has reason to worry that others will label her a ‘bad girl’ or ‘fallen woman.’ We are more likely to see a ‘cervical cancer’ vaccine as something that good girls and chaste women are justified in seeking out (emphasis mine).

Ferber: If this strategy might have increased the numbers of girls/women receiving the vaccine, then what is the problem?

Nack: It can be argued that the success of branding Gardasil as a cervical cancer vaccine has come with serious public health costs. How can we account for the boys and men who have been unable to legally access this for the last 3 years, a time period in which many of them (and their sexual partners) could have been protected against HPV-related diseases and cancers? Prevention and early detection is especially important for HPV infections because we do not yet have a true ‘HPV test’ or medical cure. By not seeking FDA approval for both male and female patients at the same time, this vaccine’s potential benefit to the public was limited. The FDA’s recent decision to approve male Gardasil has confirmed that Merck sold us a STI vaccine disguised as a cancer vaccine. Despite the messages in Merck’s successful female Gardasil campaign, cervical cancer has never been the only reason to care about the HPV pandemic: medical studies have connected HPV to oral cancers and anogenital cancers in both female and male patients (emphasis mine).

Ferber: You have made the point that the Gardasil ad campaign was a primary source of HPV information for many who had not previously been educated about this STI – what do you see as the downsides to this?

Nack: By obscuring the fact that HPV is a STI in its marketing of Gardasil, Merck missed a chance to educate us about this highly contagious family of viruses: one can contract HPV from the types of skin-to-skin contact that can take place even when sexual partners are using barrier methods, like condoms or dental dams. Given the current trends in U.S. teen sexual attitudes and behaviors, I’m also concerned about how many young people are at risk for contracting HPV because they are engaging in oral sex or anal sex to remain a ‘virgin.’ There has yet to be a large-scale public health campaign to educate the U.S. public about the truth of HPV, so Merck’s Gardasil marketing materials may have been the first (and sometimes only) ‘education’ about HPV for many Americans. For teens and young adults whose primary source of HPV information came from Gardasil ads, then what is the public health damage of not clearly understanding that HPV is sexually transmitted? What about not realizing that HPV can infect and have serious health consequences for boys/men? (emphasis mine).

Ferber: Why do you see de-stigmatizing STIs as key to improving sexual health in the U.S.?

Nack: With Gardasil now fully unmasked as the HPV vaccine it has always been, I’m hopeful that we will stop believing the myths that HPV is only a concern for females and that only promiscuous people get STIs. The availability of safe and effective STI vaccines is something to celebrate. Gardasil’s new approval for use by boys/men is an important opportunity to destroy longstanding myths. To de-stigmatize HPV is to stop viewing it – or any other STI – as a sign of immorality. Through my website, I receive emails every week from those whose genital HPV and herpes infections have damaged not only their health but also their self esteem, their relationships, and their social reputations. Eliminating the shameful stigma of STIs could free millions of infected women and men from social and psychological traumas and harm public health. Viewing these kinds of infections as medical conditions would allow STI patients to focus on pursuing treatment options that not only allow them to manage their own symptoms but also make them less likely to infect others. Destigmatizing STIs may also increase the odds that a newly diagnosed person will disclose their sexual health status to their sexual partner. New social attitudes and better public health education about STIs can prepare Americans to support future STI/HIV vaccination programs.

Ferber: As a result of marketing Gardasil as a cervical cancer drug for girls and women only, scores of males and their partners have unnecessarily contracted HPV over the past three years; the full range of health consequences of HPV have been ignored, and stereotypes and stigmas around STIs remain entrenched. Astoundingly, the American Social Health Association reports that “about 5.5 million new genital HPV cases occur each year — this is about 1/3 of all new STD infections.” Clearly, what we need is open and honest education about HPV and other STIs. We have allowed our stereotypes about women’s sexuality and STIs to put our public health at greater risk.

During the first week of October (National Sex Education week, and the beginning of Sex Education month) I posted a story about Orrin Hatch’s proposal to restore $50 million a year in federal funding to abstinence-only sex education. Now that we are in the last week of Sex Education month, it is oddly fitting that some of our STI education has been taken over by private industry (in this case, Merck’s marketing campaign about the Gardasil vaccine.) Let’s hope and lobby so that kids are not reliant solely upon on commercial advertisements for their sexual health information.

My first post in this series on trafficking began with the case of Malaysia; In the June 2009 Trafficking in Person’s report, the U.S. State Department designated Malaysia as among the worst of the worst in global trafficking. I was specifically curious about the “how” and “what now?” of Malaysia’s downgraded status to “tier 3.” In that first post I shared the current definition from the U.S. State Department of trafficking as well the distinctions between Tier 1, tier 2, Tier 2-watchlist, and Tier 3.  I also briefly described demand-side vs. supply-side approaches to anti-trafficking work. In this follow-up post I briefly discuss:

  • the “new abolitionist” movement and its impact on anti-trafficking efforts, &
  • the growing sex worker and feminist critique of the new abolitionist movement.

The New Abolitionist movement

Scholars and activists from a variety of political stripes have noted the impact of “the new abolitionist movement” on U.S. State Department Anti-Trafficking efforts.  Drawing inspiration from the early 19th century social justice movement to abolish slavery in the U.S., the new abolitionists are working to eliminate “modern day slavery,” both domestically and internationally. While the new abolitionists include some secular activists (e.g., Donna Hughes, University of Rhode Island), the movement is fundamentally driven by a new form of evangelical Christian activism; that which emphasizes global and social justice. Sociologist Elizabeth Bernstein, who has written extensively about the politics of commercialized sexuality, provides an in-depth ethnographic description of the new abolitionist movement her article,  “The Sexual Politics of the ‘New Abolitionism'”:

“A new group of highly educated and relatively affluent evangelicals have pursued some of the most active and passionate campaigning around sexual slavery and human trafficking. These evangelicals not only embrace the languages of women’s rights and social justice but have also taken deliberate steps to distinguish their work from the sexual politics of other conservative Christians. Richard Cizik, vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals and a self-described evangelical “moderate,” has gone on record describing the efforts of his organization to reorient conservative Christians away from issues such as homosexuality and abortion and toward more “common denominator” concerns such as global warming, prison reform, human trafficking, and HIV/AIDS.” (Bernstein, 2007, p. 136).

In their calls to action, the new abolitionists echo (and/or replicate) the emphasis of the U.S. State Department (especially under President Bush) on sexual trafficking. Additionally, the new abolitionists tend to favor “demand-side” approaches to fighting trafficking.


One of the newest of the new abolitionist groups, aptly titled “Stop the Demand,” is headed by Roman Catholic nuns based in the Seattle area. The public face of this campaign is currently found on the sides of Seattle buses, featuring an ad with what appears to be a young (attractive) Asian women trying to escape from the clutches of an Asian man in uniform.

The website for “Stop the Demand” lists as the following as the “goal” of traffickers: prostitution, pornography, violence/sexual exploitation, forced labor, involuntary servitude, debt bondage, or slavery/similar practice” (emphasis mine). Of course, the first two of these, prostitution and pornography, are simply categories of commercial sex, not trafficking.

Similarly, the Baptist World Alliance’s statement against trafficking appears to actually be a campaign against sex work:

“Described as a form of modern slavery, human trafficking mainly affects women and children, most of whom are forced into prostitution” (emphasis mine).

As mentioned in my previous post, while there is clear evidence that women and girls are disproportionately trafficked, of all trafficking cases, approximately 11/12 trafficking cases are NOT sexual (U.S. State Department, Trafficking in persons report, 2009).

False claims about the prevalence of sexual trafficking can be countered with reliable evidence, but the moral and religious opposition to commercial sex is resilient to claims of empirical evidence: The issue of sex work is simply seen as a matter of right and wrong. Quoting again from The Baptist World Alliance’s website:

“The sex industry is able to make humans become slaves to the power of sin.” (emphasis mine)

In its effort to curb human trafficking the faith-based group World Hope International recommends a number of tactics that everyday people in the U.S. can use. These include:

“Teach youth and young adults about the link between the sex industry and the sex trade. Stop the demand before it starts…”

(Actually, “sex industry” and “sex trade” are synonyms. Neither inherently involve sex trafficking).

and, “Provide information to your legislators on how demand increases supply in your state. For more information, contact World Hope. For information on how the sex industry (strip clubs, prostitution rings, pornography) increases demand for victims in your state, contact the Initiative Against Sexual Trafficking (IAST).”

Critics of New Abolitionism: Sex worker activists and their academic and public health allies

Since the passage of the 2000 TVPA several sex worker activist groups along with their feminist academic allies have sharply criticized the sexual politics of the U.S. State department’s anti-trafficking efforts. (Some key academic critics include: Augustin, Bernstein, Chapkis, Desyllas, Ditmore, Doezema, Kempadoo, and Soderlund. See bibliography). These critiques center around several points including: the clear anti-sex work agenda which conflates sexual trafficking and “sexual slavery” with all forms of commercial sex, the ways that anti-trafficking efforts muddy immigration rights efforts, and the “imperialist” nature of US anti-trafficking discourse.

This leads me to the final subject of this post:  the ripple effect of the new abolitionist movement on USAID funding for global sexual and reproductive health projects. Specifically here I will address the USAID policy which requires community/ health organizations to officially denounce the act of prostitution (even if they serve the sexual health needs of sex workers).  Known by many as the “anti-prostitution pledge,” this law states that:

“No funds … may be used to provide assistance to any group or organization that does not have a policy explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking.” (Center for Health and Gender Equity Policy Brief, 2008).

This anti-prostitution pledge helped usher in new abolitionist politics into the realm of global public health; as a result public health and human rights scholars and activists have started to join forces with sex worker and feminist activists. One example of this collaboration is a 13 minute film on the global public health impact of the anti-prostitution pledge. The film, “Taking the Pledge: The USAID PEPFAR Clause, Sex work, & HIV Prevention” is produced by the Network of Sex Work Projects. The film features speakers in English, Khmer, Thai, French, Portuguese and Bengali, with English subtitles.

Links to this film, film curriculum, and other related resources can be found at the Sex Workers Project.

As a result of these sorts of collaborative efforts by sex worker, public health, and human rights workers/advocates, in 2006 the “prostitution pledge” was judged in two U.S. District Courts as violating the First Amendment rights of U.S. organizations:

In May 2006, two U.S. District Courts determined that the oath required of grant recipients by the U.S. government violates the First Amendment rights of the plaintiff organizations, the Alliance for Open Society International, Pathfinder, and DKT International….

Unfortunately, organizations based in other countries are not protected by First Amendment rights; thus they are currently still bound by the prostitution pledge:

…While good news for U.S. organizations, the decision apparently does not does not apply to or “release” subcontractors/subgrantees working on the ground in other countries from having to sign the prostitution loyalty oath. In many instances, those doing  cutting edge work and outreach on the ground are the subgrantees working with sex worker populations.” (Source: PepFar Watch).

Next up in this series: A change of direction for the Obama/Clinton State Department?


  • Augustin, L.M. 2007. Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry. London: Zed Books.
  • Bernstein, E. 2007. “The Sexual Politics of the ‘New Abolitionism’.” Differences: Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, 18:3, 128-151.
  • Center for Health and Gender Equity. 2008 (August). “Policy Brief: Implications of U.S. Policy Restrictions for HIV Programs AImed at Commercial Sex Workers.” Accessible at
  • Chapkis, W. 1997. Live Sex Acts: Women performing erotic labor. New York: Routledge.
  • —– 2003. Trafficking, migration, and the law: Protecting innocents, punishing immigrants. Gender & Society, 17(6), 923- 937.
  • —– 2005. “Soft Glove, Punishing Fist: The Trafficking Victims Protection Acto of 2000.” In Regulating Sex: The Politics of Intimacy and Identity, edited by Elizabeth Bernstein and Laurie Schaffner. New York: Routledge, 51-65.
  • Department of State, United States of America. 2009. Trafficking in Persons Report.
  • Desyllas, M. C. 2007. “A critique of the Global Trafficking Discourse and U.S. Policy.” Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, Vol. 34 (4), 57-79.
  • Ditmore, M., (2005). Trafficking in lives: How ideology shapes policy. In K. Kempadoo, J. Sanghera, & B. Pattanaik, (Eds.) Trafficking and prostitution reconsidered: New perspectives on migration, sex work and human rights. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.
  • —–.  2007. “I never want to be rescued again.” New Internationalist (September). 15-16.
  • Doezema, J. (1998). Forced to choose: Beyond the voluntary v. forced prostitution dichotomy. In K. Kempadoo & J. Doezema (Eds.), Global sex workers: Rights, resistance and redefinition. New York: Routledge.
  • —–. “Loose Women or Lost Women? The Re-emergence of the Myth of White Slavery in Contemporary Discourses of Trafficking of Women.” Gender Issues 18.1 (2000): 23–50.
  • —–. “Now You See Her, Now You Don’t: Sex Workers at the un Trafficking Protocol Negotiation.” Social and Legal Studies 14.61 (2005): 61–89.
  • —–.  “Ouch! Western Feminists’ ‘Wounded Attachment’ to the ‘Third World  Prostitute.’ ” Feminist Review 67 (2001): 16–83.
  • Kempadoo, K. (2005). “Introduction: From moral panic to global justice: Changing perspectives on trafficking.” In K. Kempadoo, J. Sanghera & B. Pattanaik (Eds.), Trafficking and prostitution reconsidered: New perspectives on migration, sex work, and human rights. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.
  • Soderlund, Gretchen. “Running from the Rescuers: New U.S. Crusades against Sex Trafficking and the Rhetoric of Abolition.” NWSA Journal 17.3 (2005): 54–87.

By Shari Dworkin and Kari Lerum

In a recent post, we discussed the case of a Louisiana justice of the peace who refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple. In the words of the Justice, he “just doesn’t believe the races should mix that way.”  The Justice explained that since, in his mind, neither “black society” nor “white society” readily accepts offspring of such relationships, his refusal to marry black/white couples was purely out of concern for the couple’s future children. In that post we suggested a connection between this case and the “one drop rule,” an historical justification for race-based slavery in the U.S.

In this post we elaborate on the history of this rule, how it underscores the social construction of race, and how this rule provides an historical basis for intertwining racial and sexual inequality. We will also briefly elaborate on assumptions undergirding the “mixing of races” and “harm to children” comments.

“One Drop” and Racial Categories drops of blood

For readers unfamiliar with the “one drop rule,”  this refers to how U.S. courts and law books historically declared that a mixed race person with “one black ancestor” or “one drop of black blood” should be categorized/viewed/treated as black. The rule shows us the arbitrary nature of racial classifications. In their  book,  Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960’s to the 1990s, Michael Omi & Howard Winant describe how even a “drop” of “black blood” was difficult to define (is it 1/32 of “negro blood?” 1/20th? less? more?):

“…in 1982-1983, Susie Guillory Phipps unsuccessfully sued the Louisiana Bureau of Vital Records to change her racial classification from black to white. The descendant of an 18th century white planter and a black slave, Phipps was designated as “black” on her birth certificate in accordance with a 1970 state law that declared anyone with at least 1/32 “Negro blood” to be black.”

Omi and Winant go on to say that:

“The Phipps case raised intriguing questions about the concept of race, its meaning in contemporary society and its use (and abuse) in public policy…Phipps’ attorney argued that the assignment of racial categories on birth certificates was unconstitutional and that the 1/32nd designation was inaccurate. He called on a retired Tulane professor who cited research indicating that most Louisiana whites have at least 1/20th “Negro” ancestry” (1994, p. 53).

It is fascinating that this interracial marriage case originates from same state as the Phipps legal case. It is clear that Justice of the Peace Bardwell is assuming that there are two distinct, dichotomously different biological races. Perhaps he doesn’t come out and say it, but he may also be assuming that the value of the races are not equal (otherwise what blood mixing is there to fear?). His assessment of “racial mixing” and “black” and “white” groups isn’t even an accurate assessment of the “purity” of groups that actually exist biologically, nor does it recognize the very strong role of the social realm in shaping these (see Omi and Winant’s book for several other examples of how race is immanently social). Biologists now agree, in many cases that there is little to no biological basis for race.  Social scientists share this view, and Lewis (2006) reports that “it has been demonstrated that 85.4% of genetic variation occurs within racial groups and 8.3% occurs between population groups within a race; only 6.3 % of genetic variance occurs between racial groups” (he cites Braun, 2002; Lewontin, 1972).

“One Drop” as a tool of Racism

The second issue we’d like to underscore is how the one drop rule was deployed during slavery to classify anyone with one black ancestor as “black” and hence, a “slave.” What’s the link to sexuality? Let’s return to the discussion of miscegenation laws prohibiting Black-White marriages.

As noted by Lewis (2006, p 238):

“Although these laws were largely found in the South and were enforced largely among Black-White unions, they were more often enforced when Black men attempted to marry White women.”

In the contemporary case that we are examining, isn’t it interesting that we’re discussing the desire for a Black man and a White woman to marry? The reason for the sexual policing of couples by deploying the boundaries of race is due to ideologies of racial inferiority and the ways that whites enforce racist control. Again, citing Lewis (2006, p. 238):

“Explanations of the evolution of the black race and social policy based on these explanations fell into two broad streams during this [the anti-miscegenation] period: accommodationist racists, who believed that blacks were at a lower stage of evolutionary development and, with proper caretaking, could progress and eventually join (white) society; and competitive racists, who believed that change was not possible for blacks and segregation was necessary to preserve the achievements of the white race” (parenthesis added).

Another connection between deploying the boundaries of race (and racism) and sexuality is this: During slavery, when white masters and their sons regularly had sexual access to black female slaves (e.g. often rape, but sometimes consensual)-the mulatto children that resulted from these sexual encounters–were frequently considered black– and in turn, the masters often declared these children slaves.

Indeed, the courts have ebbed and flowed on the definition of “black” and firmed up the definition of black when they experienced fears of slave rebellions. In fact, without fears of slave rebellions, mulattos were set free from the institution of slavery in some instances. However, when fears emerged that slaves might rebel, support faded for defining mulattos as “in between black and white” and support rose to define mulattos as black. Similar debates related to “racial mixing” were also raised during Nazi Germany and during the Apartheid Era in South Africa.

Racial definitions/classifications and their relationship to sexuality and social oppression continue to haunt American history. As do fears of the “offspring” that result from inter-racial relationships. The Louisiana Justice of the peace doesn’t seem to be keeping up with the times in an endless number of ways. Jay Leno hit it on the head with his recent joke about this case:

“What are people afraid of? That mixed race kids will become President of the United States?”


Braun, L. (2002) Race, ethnicity, and health: Can genetics explain disparities? Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 45, 159‑174.

Omi, M. & Winant, H. (1994). Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s. New York: Routledge.

Lewis, L. (2006). Race and Sexuality. Pps 229-264 in  R.D. McAnulty & M.M. Burnette (Eds.), Sex and Sexuality: Trends and Controversies. Westport: Praeger.

Lewontin, R. C. (1972). The apportionment of human diversity. Evolutionary Biology, 6, 381-98.

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!

Caster SemenyaWhile Castor Semenya’s recent “news” seems to have shocked the world, the concern about “gender verification” in sport has taken place for quite some time. The tests have changed over time…but the point has not (e.g. when women are “too good,” they must not be women).

Some examples of other intersex track athletes include:

  • Stella Walsh, a 2 time Olympic medalist in the 1930s, running for Poland. She won a gold medal in ’36 in the 100 meter dash during the Berlin Olympics. It was only when she died that an autopsy revealed that she had male genitalia, XX chromosomes, and XY chromosomes as well.
  • Eva Klobukowska, a Polish sprinter who won a gold medal in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics failed a sex chromosome test in 1965. She was banned from competition. (She gave birth a few years later).
  • Maria Patino from Spain was a sprinter and failed a “gender” test in 1985—she was banned from sports competition but was reinstated later when it became clear that she was resistant to testosterone. Since she was deemed resistant to testosterone, the fear that she had an “unfair advantage” or was “a man unfairly masquerading as a woman” was squelched.
  • Santhi Soundarajan, an Indian runner who failed a gender test in Doha in 2006 and was stripped of a previous medal.maria patinoSanthi SoundarajanStella Walsh
    Eva Klobukowska

The list goes on and on. And then, most recently, there was South African Caster Semanya.

Semenya was subject to a “gender verification test” (it is a sex test not a gender test). She was born female, raised as a woman, identifies as a woman, and has no ovaries or uterus. She also has undescended testes. It was also found that while she produces “10 times less” testosterone than “most men,” she has exceeded the average of women by “3 times.” (Why are we comparing elite athletic women to “average women” who may not train as rigorously or build muscle mass as much)? Unlike many other countries which stand by and allow international governing bodies to carry out these tests and toss their athletes out of sports competitions forever more, the South African parliament filed a complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Commission. The International Association of Athletics Federation wants her to be disqualified from future events and has suggested to her that she should have “immediate surgery” because of the “grave health risks” of her “condition.”

This is a complicated issue, but I will be brief here and spread my thoughts over a number of posts.

Let me at least say this: The International Olympic Committee mandated “gender verification” of women since the mid 1960s but in 1990, the International Amateur Athletics Federation called for the abandonment of gender verification. A working group was developed, and the Women’s Sports Foundation website reports that the working group concluded that:

  • women with birth defects of the sex chromosomes did not possess an unfair advantage and should be permitted to compete as females; the only purpose of gender verification was to prevent men from masquerading as females;
  • people who have been both legally and psychosocially female since childhood (including pre-pubertal sex re-assignments) should be eligible for women’s competition regardless of their chromosomal pattern;
  • post-pubertal sex re-assignments should be handled on a case by case basis; and women athletes should undergo pre-participation health examinations.

Unfortunately, at IOC events, the IOC continues to sex test despite the discrimination it entails and the harm it causes to athletes.

What I would like to see is parallel gender verification treatment of male athletes:

Let’s determine the normal range of testosterone for men and if there are male athletes who naturally produce more than other male athletes—ban them from competition for being “too much of a man”? (Unnatural advantage).

The other men just don’t have a chance against them, do they?

All of the above trends are of course, contextualized in sport as a social institution, which, since its inception was formed by and for men, in order to make boys into men (for a history of these claims, see the following books: Michael Messner, Power at Play, Susan Cahn, Coming on Strong: Gender and Sexuality in 20th Century Women’s Sport, or Varda Burstyn’s, The Rites of Men. Another important piece of context: recognition that sport is constructed to explicitly segregate the sexes into two dichotomous beings who don’t compete with one another and to support ideologies of “the two sex system” (Ann Fausto-Sterling’s term, in her book Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. She is a biologist, by the way). This is the case even though sport as an institution could be set up to reward the best sports performances (no matter where sex or sexes land).

For excellent work on the two sex system in sport (and for the inspiration for the title of this post), check out Ann Travers’ piece in Studies in Social Justice (2008, Volume 2, #1) “The sport nexus and gender injustice.”

…and don’t miss Mary Jo Kane’s 1995 “seminal” work in the Journal of Sport and Social Issues titled “Resistance/Transformation of the Oppositional Binary: Exposing Sport as a Continuum.”

Finally, if this topic is one that you just plain enjoy, I have a few of my own books on this topic, such as, Leslie Heywood & Shari Dworkin’s (2003): Built to Win: The Female Athlete as Cultural Icon (University of Minnesota Press), and Shari Dworkin and Faye Wachs (2009). Body Panic: Gender, Health, and the Selling of Fitness (NYU Press).

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)