Donna M. Hughes

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This article is about anti-prostitution activist Donna M. Hughes. For other people named Donna Hughes, see Donna Hughes (disambiguation).
Donna M. Hughes
Born 1954
Nationality American
Fields Women's studies
Institutions University of Rhode Island, Eleanor M. and Oscar M. Carlson Endowed Chair, Women's Studies Program
University of Bradford
Pennsylvania State University
Alma mater Pennsylvania State University (Ph.D., Genetics, 1990)
Known for Research and writing on human trafficking, prostitution, and sexual slavery

Donna M. Hughes (born 1954) is a University of Rhode Island professor of women's studies and activist against prostitution and human trafficking,[1] and pornography.[2]

Hughes has written extensively on the prevalence of these issues of exploitation of women within Islamic Fundamentalism [3]


Hughes was raised on a farm in central Pennsylvania. She later attended Pennsylvania State University, earning degrees in animal science before earning a PhD in genetics in 1990.[4]

While a student, she became increasingly interested in feminism and started volunteering at a women's shelter. Hughes writes that she began to feel emotional and cognitive dissonance between her scientific studies and the feminist activist work she was doing. Initially an instructor in both genetics and women's studies, an increasingly critical view of what she felt was the disconnected nature of science led her to focus on women's studies.[4]

Hughes later served as a lecturer on women's studies at University of Bradford, UK, between 1994 and 1996, before moving on to a full professorship at University of Rhode Island, where she holds the Eleanor M. and Oscar M. Carlson Endowed Chair in Women's Studies. She has also served as Education and Research Coordinator for the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women.[5]


Hughes has published research on the trafficking of women for prostitution and sexual slavery in several countries, including Russia, Ukraine, North Korea, China, and the United States. Additionally, she has published research and analysis on the role of the Internet in facilitating prostitution and trafficking and on the mail-order bride industry. She has also written extensively on women's rights in the Islamic world. Hughes has also published several articles on the role of women in science and technology.[1][4]

Activism and views[edit]

She is a strong opponent of prostitution and one of the leading advocates of the "abolitionist" view of prostitution. She is seen by many as a key figure linking the feminist and social conservative movements against prostitution and the sex industry.[6][7] Hughes has received criticism from sex workers' rights activists[8] for her view that laws against prostitution are necessary to combat human trafficking and sexual slavery,[9] and what many see as personal attacks against other academics and activists who support decriminalization of prostitution.[10][11][12][13][14]

Hughes actively fought against government funding for HIV prevention programs that supplied condoms to sex workers. In 2002 she went before the House Committee on International Relations to report several harm-reduction programs that had received US funding, carried out by NGOs such as Médecins Sans Frontières, EMPOWER Thailand, International Human Rights Law Group, and the Dutch anti-trafficking organization La Strada.[15] On April 9, 2003, she spoke before the Senate subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs "There are billions of dollars being spent on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, and a significant portion is directed for prevention in high risk groups such as women and children in prostitution. There should be appropriate restrictions or requirements on how aid organizations and/or personnel respond when they suspect that anyone they come in contact with is abused, exploited, or enslaved."[16] Due to her conflation of all forms of prostitution with sex slavery, the changes she helped to bring about applied even to harm reduction programs that worked with under-served women in prostitution.[17]

Hughes, in her efforts against sex trafficking and prostitution, has received support from Princeton scholar Robert P. George.[18]

Prostitution in Rhode Island controversy[edit]

From 2006-2009, Hughes was a leading figure in the campaign to end the decriminalized status of indoor prostitution in Rhode Island,[10][19][20] and was a founding member of the Rhode Island group, Citizens Against Trafficking (CAT) in 2009. The initial legislative battles over indoor prostitution are documented in the 2009 documentary film Happy Endings?, in which Hughes appears, speaking at a community forum on human trafficking and testifying before the state legislature to change the prostitution law.[21]

In September 2009, Hughes wrote several opinion pieces in the Providence Journal supporting a version of the legislation with stronger penalties for prostitution and taking the Rhode Island State Senate to task for what she viewed as its de facto support for continuing decriminalization of prostitution.[10][22] This version of the bill was signed into law in November 2009.[23] Several Rhode Island State Senators wrote editorials disputing Hughes claim that they had kept indoor prostitution legal, with Senator Charles Levesque taking Hughes to task for, in his view, providing a highly distorted reading of the legislation passed by the RI Senate.[24][25]

Soon after the Rhode Island prostitution law hearings, Hughes was involved in a controversy surrounding the opening of the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health (CSPH), a sexual education center in Pawtucket, Rhode Island organized by Megan Andelloux, a sex educator who had testified before the Rhode Island Senate in opposition to criminalizing indoor prostitution. Supporters of Andelloux claim that in September 2009, the opening of the CSPH was blocked after an email was sent by Hughes to Pawtucket city council members (stating, "Hello, A center for 'sexual rights' and 'sexual pleasure' is opening in Pawtucket"),[26][27][28][29] also citing remarks made about Andelloux in an earlier Providence Journal editorial by Hughes,[10][11][12][29] as well as in a bulletin on the Citizens Against Trafficking website.[29][30] A 6-month zoning battle followed with the city of Pawtucket; the CSPH was eventually allowed to open in early 2010.[29]

A March 2010 editorial in the Providence Journal stated that Hughes and Citizens Against Trafficking co-founder Melanie Shapiro have faced threatening remarks on various internet forums from patrons of massage parlors in retaliation for their role in banning indoor prostitution in Rhode Island.[31]

Selected bibliography[edit]


  • Hughes, Donna M. (1999). Making the harm visible: global sexual exploitation of women and girls: speaking out and providing services. Kingston, Rhode Island: Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. ISBN 9780967085708. 
  • Hughes, Donna M.; Stoner Jr., James Reist (2010). The social costs of pornography: a collection of papers. Princeton, New Jersey: Witherspoon Institute. ISBN 9780981491134. 

Chapters in books[edit]

  • Hughes, Donna (2004), "The use of new communication technologies for sexual exploitation of women and children", in Whisnant, Rebecca; Stark, Christine, Not for sale feminists: resisting prostitution and pornography, North Melbourne, Victoria: Spinifex Press, pp. 38–55, ISBN 9781876756499 


  1. ^ a b Donna Hughes (faculty page), University of Rhode Island.
  2. ^ Stop Porn Culture Conference: "The Future of Pornography" (conference schedule), 2010[broken citation]
  3. ^ "Publications by Donna M. Hughes". University of Rhode Island. Retrieved 26 November 2010. 
  4. ^ a b c Hughes, Donna M. (2000). "Scientific, feminist, and personal epistemologies: conflicts and opportunities". Women's Studies Quarterly 28 (1/2): 305–312. JSTOR 40004462. Retrieved 2 September 2009.  (Archived at Donna M. Hughes faculty website,
  5. ^ Klein, Renate (1999). Cyberfeminism: Connectivity, Critique, and Creativity. Susan Hawthorne (ed). Spinifex Press. ISBN 1-875559-68-X.  p 422.
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ Chesler, Phyllis; Donna M Hughes. (22 February 2004). "Feminism in The 21st Century". Washington Post. 
  8. ^ Sex Worker Awareness [2] Women Studies Professor isn't listening to Women
  9. ^ D Hughes. Senators’ prostitution bill is a sham Providence Journal, September 4, 2009
  10. ^ a b c d D Hughes. R.I's carnival of prostitution. Providence Journal, June 24, 2009.
  11. ^ a b M Andelloux. Professor's name calling of sex workers. Providence Journal, June 25, 2009.
  12. ^ a b M. Lawrence. URI Women’s Studies Professor Horrified By Tattooed Women. Providence Daily Dose, June 25, 2009.
  13. ^ Brooks, Margaret; Hughes, Donna (14 August 2009). "International Sex Radicals Campaign to Keep Prostitution Decriminalized in Rhode Island: Part 1". Citizens Against Trafficking. Retrieved 25 August 2009. 
  14. ^ Lawrence, Matthew. (15 August 2009). "Sex Radicals’ International Conspiracy Afoot In RI, Apparently". Providence Daily Dose. Retrieved 19 August 2009. 
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ [3]
  19. ^ Arsenault, Mark (25 November 2006). "Cicilline to co-host forum on human trafficking, parlors". Providence Journal. Retrieved 16 August 2010. 
  20. ^ Arditi, Lynn (17 September 2009). "Sex workers testify at Senate hearing on prostitution bill". Providence Journal. Retrieved 16 August 2010. 
  21. ^ Hurley, Tara (Director) (2009). Happy Endings? (documentary). It's Not Easy Productions. 
  22. ^ Senator's Prostitution Bill A Sham.
  23. ^ Arditi, Lynn (3 October 2009). "Bill Signing Finally Outlaws Prostitution". Providence Journal. Retrieved 3 October 2009. 
  24. ^ "Paul V. Jabour/Michael J. McCaffrey: Fixing ‘sex-worker industry’: R.I. Senate closes prostitution loophole". Providence Journal | contributors. 30 August 2009. Retrieved 13 July 2014. 
  25. ^ "Chuck Levesque: Anti-prostitution law means more deaths". Providence Journal | letters to the editor. 9 September 2009. Retrieved 13 July 2014. 
  26. ^ Hauk, Alexis (30 September 2009). "Hot controversy over sexuality center in Pawtucket". Providence Phoenix. Retrieved 11 July 2010. 
  27. ^ Lawrence, Matthew (2 October 2009). "Donna Hughes On Our Nation’s Autoerotic Asphyxiation Epidemic". Providence Daily Dose. Retrieved 11 July 2010. 
  28. ^ Littlefield, Amy (3 December 2009). "Female Sexologist Awaits Pawtucket Zoning Board". Womens eNews. Retrieved 11 July 2010. 
  29. ^ a b c d Minkin, Tracey (April 2010). "The SexEd Warrior-Queen". Rhode Island Monthly. 
  30. ^ Brooks, Margaret; Hughes, Donna (23 September 2009). "Sex Radicals’ Vision for Rhode Island". Citizens Against Trafficking. 
  31. ^ Achorn, Edward (23 March 2010). "Gang-rape threat isn’t ‘free speech’". Providence Journal. Retrieved 12 July 2010. 

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