Donna Hughes: Have tattooes? You don’t deserve respect.

I was pretty taken aback at the condescension dripping from Donna Hughes’s opinion piece below that appeared in the Providence journal. How on earth someone who is clearly repulsed by “certain” women can be involved in any Women’s Studies program in any university is way beyond me.

01:00 AM EDT on Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Providence Journal
DONNA M. HUGHES

AFTER MY EXPERIENCE at the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday, I believe Rhode Island is headed for a human rights disaster and nationwide political embarrassment. It is becoming apparent that the Senate is not going to pass a much-needed prostitution bill. Rhode Island will continue to have an expanding number of spa-brothels, prostitution of minors in clubs, and no law that will enable the police to stop it.

The hearing (on Senate bill 0596, to close the loophole allowing indoor prostitution) was a sordid circus, with pimps and prostitutes coming forward to oppose the legislation.

Midway through the hearing, filmmaker Tara Hurley ushered in women and men she collected from the spa-brothels. They settled in the back of the room. Somewhat later, the women made a dash out of the room and hid in the hallway. Hurley had to coax them back in to testify with an explanation to the committee that they are afraid of cameras.

One 53-year-old Korean woman who needed a translator to speak said she worked as a “receptionist.” She said she had never seen any women coerced into prostitution. But at the end of her testimony she revealed that she had previously been arrested for being a pimp.

Then a man reeking of cigarette smoke and other odors came forward. He was identified to me by Hurley as a pimp. He claimed credit for the growth of the spa-brothels in Rhode Island for his now-deceased wife. Another Korean woman came forward and said she did “it” for depressed, shy guys who needed stress relief. She implicated construction workers, judges and lawyers. She proudly exclaimed that she does “it” to make money.

Then a tattooed woman, calling herself a “sexologist and sex educator,” spoke against the bill. She is also a reporter for a prostitutes’ magazine called $pread. (I couldn’t make this stuff up!)

All of their testimonies were accepted by the committee without critical questions. Their outrageous appearance and statements muted the serious, precise testimonies of representatives of the Rhode Island state police, the attorney general’s office, the Providence police, and Richard Israel, a former attorney general and Rhode Island Superior Court judge.

Two senators, Charles Levesque and Rhoda Perry, who are known opponents of the prostitution bill, dominated the hearing. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Michael McCaffery left and turned the hearing over to Senator Levesque, who seemed pleased and entertained by the cadre from the sex industry.

On at least two occasions, Senator Levesque has expressed his opposition to a prostitution bill to me in e-mails. During my testimony, he badgered me to make a statement I knew wasn’t true, until Sen. Leo Blais had to get out of his seat to calm his colleague down.

Also during my testimony, Senator Perry challenged my report by reading to me from the work of Ron Weitzer, an academic advocate of decriminalized prostitution when it’s indoors. In a June 18 letter published in The Journal (“Some lurid prostitution myths debunked”), he called Rhode Island’s laws ­ and lack of laws ­ “a model for other states.”

I have testified at hearings in the State House on a number of occasions. Never have I witnessed such a carnival. In April, I testified for the House prostitution bill (Rep. Joanne Giannini’s H-5044A) and the atmosphere was serious and respectful, even though there was opposition to the bill.

In contrast to the passive encouragement for prostitution in Rhode Island in the Senate Judiciary Committee, earlier on Thursday Governor Carcieri held a press conference calling for passage of the House bill. He was supported by state police Supt. Col. Brendan Doherty and the attorney general’s office. Freshman Rep. Robert DaSilva, a Pawtucket police officer, spoke compellingly about the problem of prostitution. He said there is more juvenile prostitution than he has ever seen before. Representative Giannini said that we do not want Rhode Island to be a safe haven for the sex industry.

The end of the General Assembly session is near. From my observation, I believe the Senate is going to let another year go by without a prostitution law. This will be a tragedy for victims caught in the sex industry, a black eye for Rhode Island’s reputation, and a victory for the pimps.

Donna M. Hughes is chairwoman of the Women’s Studies Program at the University of Rhode Island.

Original on Providence Journal

30 Responses

  1. I was also taken aback, especially when I found out that Dr. Hughes occupies an endowed chair in Women’s Studies at URI. She specializes in “women’s rights.” That’s rights for *all* women, right? This irrational fear of sex and gender positivists has haunted feminism since day one. It’s the fear that was stamped into the fiber of US culture by Puritans hundreds of years ago. That fear and the condescension it breeds has no place in any progressive program of Women’s Studies.

  2. Not that it will make any difference, but I just emailed the president of the university muskrat@uri.edu the article & my thoughts on the appropriateness of the author being in the women’s studies department (would have emailed the department itself, but she was second down on the list of faculty).

  3. On a positive note, it’s great that this horrible legislation is unlikely to pass, as Donna Hughes admitted. In this case, I hope she’s right. Despite what proponents say, this legislation has nothing to do with stopping human trafficking. What the legislation would do is expand the incaceration of sex workers, criminalizing both street and indoor workers. It’s bad enough that street workers are criminalized, but this legislation would have expanded the incarceration of sex workers to indoor prostitutes. It would have been a step in the wrong direction. We need to move toward stopping the criminalization of both street and indoor prostitution rather than expanding it.

  4. Why is Donna Hughes so ill-informed about the industry she hates that the existence of $pread Magazine new to her?

    This article sounded like it was written by a jr. high-schooler. THIS is a professor and “prostitution expert”? Someone who makes fun of people she’s supposedly trying to save? Someone who complains when her victims speak up? Why can’t anyone else see her for what she is?

    XX

  5. Thanks for posting this. I’m the “sex educator and sexologist” Ms. Hughes referenced to.
    I sent this email to the PROJO and URI President last night, we’ll see if they print it. You all are right on the money-I wanted to go into more detail, but I was limited with words.

    What Circus?

    Let me introduce myself: I’m the nationally certified sex-educator and derogatorily labeled “tattooed lady” mentioned by Ms. Donna Hughes in Wednesday’s paper. It seems that the would-be chairwoman of URI’s women’s studies program (she is not) was so put off by my appearance that she called into question my credentials. Putting quotation marks around my profession was insulting. And yes, it is not “made up” that I am a contributor to the sex-workers magazine $pread. Is it so shocking that sex-workers can read?

    This “Opinion piece” was nothing more than an exercise in highbrow name calling. She attacked the opponents to her pet bill as “a sordid circus”, as “smelling of other odors”, and as projecting the atmosphere of “a carnival”. As an alum of URI (‘97), I would have expected faculty of our honored University to develop a reputation for science and truth. Instead, it seems that Ms. Hughes would rather resort to right-wing scare tactics. Perhaps if “the Professor” really cared about women, she wouldn’t attack us for the way that we look.

    Megan J. Andelloux, AASECT, ACS

  6. So, a woman doesn’t have the right to speak because she has a tattoo.

    A man doesn’t have the right to speak because he smokes cigarettes (supposedly).

    I am so glad this stupid bill isn’t going to pass. Not because of Hughes, but for the sex workers of Rhode Island.

    What the Reverend Doctor Lady Bishop Donna Hughes doesn’t realize is that due to the economy and pop-culture, people are beginning to see through her crap.

    Better quit before you’re beaten down for good, Donna.

  7. Donna is pontificating again on Iran as an expert. Donna find Iran on this map! Please note, Iran ending in “Q” as in Iraq isn’t Iran misspelled. http://www.google.com/mapdata?CxWEz-4BHe42MwMg____________AQwthM_uATXuNjMDQI4CSLkBUgJJUpABDcoBAmVu

  8. Here is an analogy on Donna’s latest article and her gimmick as a whole.

    Donna is like the old time good guy pro wrestler Chief Jay Strongbow facing the evil the evil Iron Sheik, or the evil good guy turned bad guy, whoever….. In reality Chief Jay Strongbow wasn’t even Native American. He was Joe Scarpa from Brooklyn, an Italian American, pretending to be a native american, doing all the cliche native american things he could think of to generate heat with the crowd. It didn’t matter to him or the audience that he wasn’t really native american, or that the evil Baron Von Rashke was actually from Nebraska. Or that his tag team partner, “Billy White Wolf” was actually Iraqi……… It was all about generating response his audience. Whether the rest of the world knew he was Italian not Native American or felt his gimmick was a total farce didn’t matter. He was working his crowd, facing off against whoever he had to get over as evil so that he could keep his money and fame.

    Same thing with Donna. She might as well be standing next to Vince McMahon blathering her expertise, throwing out her cliches about her evil. The people she wants to reach are the ones who know the least about sex workers. Her audience is the wealthy neo conservative who is going to be frightened by tattoo’d women, smokey men, people not wanting to get their picture taken, etc. She is working a gimmick. One that is very harmful to many of us, but nonetheless, it isn’t about us, to her. It is about keeping her place in front of the crowd. She is trying to work the crowd. Her crowd. We just happen to be the bad guy standing in the ring. Just as she jumps on the Iran thing as an expert whenever she can work that crowd.

  9. Donna Hughes voice grows louder as she gets farther and farther away from the truth.
    Although she write that she thinks the bill isn’t going to pass, I think she uses this as a scare tactic.

    Donna Hughes is not for helping women, she is for putting them in prison.
    And she wants to enforce a culture of silence, and attack every woman who speaks out.

  10. I wonder if Donna agrees with Ahmadinejad that jailing the protesters is what is best for them?

  11. I would NOT assume that the Rhode Island bill will not pass. It is still being debated, and articles like Donna Hughes’ — attempting to shame the named Senators — may be enough to prompt a vote of other Senators in favor of the criminalization bill.

    I suggest that each of you consider immediately adding your Comment (on the Providence Journal site, following Hughes letter) challenging her. Readers in Rhode Island need to hear from you. This bill may indeed pass without continued opposition!!

  12. I agree with Dr. Weitzer. All the media coverage has been horrible, so please comment and or send letters to the Senate. There is only a few days left and I hear that they might be passing the bill.

  13. I agree with Dr. Weitzer. The Prop 8 struggle here in California could not be a better example.

    That would be never assume and never under estimate.

  14. Megan, thanks for posting that here! Please let us know if they feature your piece in print.
    xoxo

  15. Senate approves bill to make indoor prostitution illegal
    11:35 PM Thu, Jun 25, 2009 | Permalink
    Lynn Arditi Email

    PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The Senate Thursday night approved a bill to make indoor prostitution illegal and hold landlords who “knowingly” allow prostitution on their property criminally liable.

    The vote was 35 to 0.

    The Senate bill (S-596) introduced by Sen. Paul V. Jabour, D-Providence, is one of two bills pending before the General Assembly that seek to close a nearly 30-year-old “loophole” in the state’s prostitution law.

    The other bill (H-5044 A), introduced by Rep. Joanne M. Giannini, D-Providence, was approved 62 to 8 in the House last May.

    In order to become law, the Senate and House must both approve one, identical bill.

    Jabour said yesterday that he hopes that his colleague in the House, Giannini, is willing to work with him to get a prostitution bill passed this session.

    “Representative Giannini has done a tremendous amount of work on this,” Jabour said Thursday. “If she wants something passed, I want Joanne to consider amending her bill.”

    The Senate bill’s approval Thursday night followed a series of negotiations throughout the day Wednesday by Jabour, the bill’s sponsor, the Senate president and members of Senate Judiciary Committee, who approved the bill just 90 minutes before the Senate floor vote.

    Sen. Rhoda E. Perry, D-Providence, who previously opposed the prostitution bill because she said she feared it was victimizing prostitutes, was among those who voted for it Thursday night.

    Both the House and Senate bills seek to give the police the tools they have said are necessary to investigate and prosecute cases that could involve sex-trafficking. The lack of a criminal statute against indoor prostitution, the police say, has fueled the expansion in Rhode Island of brothels masquerading as “spas.”

    But the House and Senate bills differ in several key respects. For example, the Senate bill includes penalties for landlords who “knowingly” allow prostitution on their property.

    Under Sen. Jabour’s bill, landlords who are repeat offenders would face up to three years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.

    “You get caught shoplifting three times, you’re an habitual offender” subject to a felony charge, Jabour, a lawyer, said. “Why should it be any different for prostitution?”

    The penalties–which are much lighter for first- and second-time offenders–are designed to encourage landlords to take action to remove tenants whom they know or suspect are using the premises for prostitution, said legislative counsel lawyer Richard K. Corley, who helped draft the Senate bill.

    For landlords, the punishment for a first offense is a misdemeanor “violation” subject a $100 contribution to the Victims’ Indemnity Fund; a second-offense is punishable by a fine of up to $500.

    Jabour had said last week that property owners are the “silent force” against his bill, adding that he wanted to “smoke out the skunks and see who’s against it.”‘

    Jabour’s bill also include identical penalties for prostitutes and “johns.”

    Other than certain counties in Nevada, Rhode Island is the only place in the country where indoor prostitution is not a crime.

  16. How regressive.

    Looking at their crime stats for 2007, looks like the police can’t handle the crime they already have. There were 18 murders reported to police in 2007, yet only 9 arrests. Out of 2,393 violent crimes reported to police (murder, rape, assault, robbery), there were only 463 arrests. 3,219 motor vehicles were reported stolen, but there were only 125 arrests for that crime. Now I know there are many factors to consider (one person could have been arrested for killing 5 people, and one person could have been arrested for stealing 10 vehicles), but I’m willing to bet there are families whose homes were burgled (5,233 burglaries were reported) and haven’t seen justice for those crimes (only 567 arrests were made).

    Perhaps the citizens of Rhode Island need to be alerted to where the police will be concentrating their time now. After all, what crimes do you think a majority male police force would rather pursue: murders, rapists and car thieves? Or naked women having adult consensual sex in private?

  17. Is there anything that can be done to prevent this legislation from becoming reality? According to the article above, they have to come to an agreement on some things before either the house or senate bill becomes law.

  18. Here is a link to the story Jill posted:
    http://newsblog.projo.com/2009/06/senate-prostitu.html

    There is a comments section- I encourage people to go there and leave comments!

  19. Done,,,,

    Hope it helps

  20. legislatures are cowards, we have to go back to litigating in court now.

  21. maybe folks can work on getting her fired.

    http://www.projo.com/opinion/contributors/content/CT_nuhughes_06-24-09_AMER5HE_v6.18e5af6.html

    It is tragic that Donna Hughes continues to conflate prostitution with human trafficking. Proponents of this kind of logic force complex issues into a seemingly simple frame. But prostitution, sex work, and human trafficking are far from simple. These phenomena have traditionally been sites of legal and political abuse. And the persons most harmed tend to be those who need our support the most.

    It is outrageous that a Chair of a Women’s Studies Department would dehumanize sex workers who speak for themselves as well as $pread Magazine. Furthermore, Hughes advocates that it is the voices of the police who we should take most seriously. In this equation, Hughes perpetuates the false and dehumanizing story of the rational-helpful police officer fighting depraved-dishonest whores. This is particularly outrageous considering the long-standing and wide-spread occurrence of abuse and rape by police and military personnel. Here, I am not at all claiming that the police officers praised by Hughes are doing anything wrong. But there is a serious problem when an academic, who should know better, privileges law enforcement voices above all others where women’s, men’s, and transgender bodies/sexualities are concerned.

    The most serious problem with the conflation of sex work and human trafficking is that global historical records tell us that anti-trafficking efforts are more-often-than-not directed at persons engaging in consensual acts. Pretending that police are unable to arrest persons who traffic or abuse minors or adults, is absurd. We have federal and state laws (even in RI) against sexual assault, rape, and violence. Police are making conscious choices about who they will and won’t target. This is an enormous problem considering the number of sex workers who have been raped and abused by cops.

    I would like to think that Hughes, and people like her, will one day be able to see that efforts to criminalize adult sex workers do nothing but harm. Decriminalization of prostitution would allow more transparent policies and would allow more people to report actual crimes. When prostitution is illegal and a prostitute reports abuse of a minor, violence against his/her person, or any crime against persons, it is the prostitute who is arrested.

    We need humane laws that recognize our rights to our bodies and our lives. We need humane law enforcement policies and agents who actually go after the people who hurt other people–even if those are colleagues abusing their wife, girlfriend, children, or others. We need humane mediations that actually help the people who are being forced to do things that they don’t want to do. And a first step in producing a new reality is by listening to, taking seriously, and critically thinking about the multiplicity of voices and stories that sex work stakeholders have to share.

    Putting down sex workers who don’t agree with your academic view is wrong and unethical. I understand that sex work is not okay for all people. There are people who are not trafficked but who do not want to be doing sex work. There are also people who love sex work and wouldn’t give it up for anything. And there are people who feel awful about sex work on some days and great about it on others. We need to take seriously the fact that this diversity means that complex considerations and solutions are needed to address the needs of us all. And most important, we need to direct our attention and resources to eradicating human trafficking and domestic violence in every form by getting to the actual criminals. It is shameful to conflate the complex issues of sex work with clear productions of violence. And I am just so tired of academics who think that they are the ones who know best and that they do not have to consider what others have to say.

    Say yes to rights and say no to oppression. And right now, I am saying “no” to Donna Hughes’ pompous stand in an imaginary carnival that she constructs and reconstructs to no useful end.

    Elizabeth Nanas
    Wayne State University
    Detroit, MI USA

  22. Jill, I commented there too, but don’t see either of our comments. Looks like we are being silenced? I am going to write an email to the RI senate saying the same thing I tried to post on the article. Sigh.

  23. Yeah, I don’t see that either of us cleared moderation. We have to do a radio show on XXBN about Donna and Rhode Island. If we can’t get on their media we can use ours.

  24. Count me in! Let’s try to get Tara Hurley, too.

  25. Hi-
    The response was printed online and generated a lot of commentary. Here it is http://www.projo.com/opinion/letters/content/LT_andeRDY_06-25-09_4LERHBG_v15.1050f87.html
    They did check out that she is not the chair of women’s studies, so they pulled it from her sign but did not post a retraction. I sent her two direct messages to which she has not responded to. The bill never completely went through, I’m sure it will be brought up again. The reason it didn’t was due to time, but the police and the Attorney General stated they were against it because they it didn’t lock up the sex workers. Figures right? I’d love to continue to be involved in any way if needed!

  26. Thanks for posting that, Megan! Excellent. I also liked Becca’s comment.

    So are you saying that because the house and the senate didn’t pass the same bill, it won’t become legislation? How long might they have to work out the differences?

  27. Wow Megan- I just went to your website and realized I had been there about a week ago. I have no idea how I found it then, but excellent site! I very much enjoyed reading through it, and found a lot of helpful information. Small world, isn’t it!

  28. I wrote a comment about this over at feministing, and there has been great responses!

  29. It is a small world- I’m so glad you liked my site!
    This is the last articled that was printed in the paper-http://www.projo.com/generalassembly/PROSTITUTION_BILL_OPPOSED_27_06-28-09_5CES69K_v53.38ad7c3.html
    It didn’t get become law because the same bill was not passed in both the house and senate (one reason being is that they went into recess), so to my understanding, that means the bill died. (although Tara would know more about this than I) and it must be reintroduced in the fall.
    I for one would like to see some type of campaign to stop this, we do have the summer to organize something.
    Where are you located? Are you in Cali, if so, I’m going to be out there beginning of July and would love to sit down and brainstorm ways to stop this.
    Megan

  30. I am in Las Vegas. But we can brainstorm by phone!

    I left the following comment at the article you posted above:

    Of course they’re not concerned about the victims, or any women for that matter. The house and senate bills are blatant attempts to criminalize an entire class of women. The house bill is far more draconian, however. History shows us that prostitution laws everywhere are overwhelmingly enforced against the women, who stand to lose their children, their social standing, their homes, etc. Look at the arrest in OK recently, where both the woman and the man were caught with their pants down, but the woman was the only one arrested. She had agreed to perform oral sex on the man for a case of chips. The man wasn’t arrested due to “police discretion”. Yet the woman’s photo and name were plastered all over the media. WTF??

    If either of these bills passes, we will have the same situation as before, which brought forth the lawsuit that eliminated the stupid laws in the first place.

    Idiocy.

    And Donna Hughes won’t be happy until all women’s vaginas are sewn shut. You think for an instance she would stop her war on sex if all prostitution were outlawed?

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