Donna M. Hughes

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Donna M. Hughes
Born1954 (age 68–69)
Alma materPennsylvania State University (Ph.D., Genetics, 1990)
Known forResearch and writing on human trafficking, sexual exploitation, and sexual slavery
Scientific career
FieldsWomen's studies
InstitutionsUniversity of Rhode Island, Eleanor M. and Oscar M. Carlson Endowed Chair, Women's Studies Program
University of Bradford
Pennsylvania State University
External video
Dana Shugar Colloquium Lectures in Gender & Women's Studies: Presented at the Human Trafficking Conference, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
video icon Analysis of Human Trafficking Cases in Rhode Island 2009-2013 via YouTube[1]

Donna M. Hughes (born 1954) is an American academic and feminist who chairs the women's studies department at the University of Rhode Island.[2] Her research concerns prostitution and human trafficking; she was a prominent supporter of the campaign to end prostitution in Rhode Island, and has testified on these issues before several national legislative bodies. She sits on the editorial board of Sexualization, Media, and Society,[3] a journal examining the impact of sexualized media.

Her writing on transgender issues has been criticized as transphobic; the University of Rhode Island released a statement distancing itself from her views, while recognizing her academic freedom.[4]


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.[5]

While a student, she started volunteering at a rape crisis center and battered women's shelter. During this time, she started to read feminist analyses of violence against women, particularly sexual violence and exploitation. 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.[5]

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 the 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.[6]

Hughes is a co-founder, with Melanie Shapiro, of Citizens Against Trafficking.

Research, teaching, and scholarship[edit]

Hughes is a leading international researcher on human trafficking. She has completed research on the trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation in several countries, including the United States, Russia, Ukraine, and Korea. She does research and writing on women's rights. Her topic areas include: violence, slavery, sexual exploitation, Islamic fundamentalism, and women's organized resistance to violence and exploitation. She has also worked on issues related to women, science, and technology.

Additionally, she was the first to publish research and analysis on the role of the Internet in facilitating sexual exploitation and trafficking of women and girls, 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.[7][5]

Her research has been supported by the U.S. State Department, the National Institute of Justice, the National Science Foundation, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, the International Organization for Migration, the Council of Europe, the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education, the University of Rhode Island Foundation, the University of Rhode Island Council for Research, and the University of Bradford, UK.


Date Honor
1987 Special recognition for service provided to victims of sexual assault, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, Pennsylvania
1997 Technology and Teaching Fellow, University of Rhode Island
1999-2000 Teaching Fellow, University of Rhode Island
2002 Outstanding Outreach Award for International Networking on Trafficking in Women, Vice Provost's Office of Research and Graduate Studies, University of Rhode Island
June 2003 Invited to the White House to witness the signing of the PROTECT Act
January 2005 Invited to the White House to witness the signing of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005
December 2008 Invited to the White House to witness the signing of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008.
November 2009 Invited to the Rhode Island State House to witness Governor Carcieri sign the Act Relating to Criminal Offenses-Prostitution and Lewdness[8]
May 2010 University of Rhode Island Annual Research Award
December 2010 Josephine Butler Award, Norma Hotaling Award for "challenging the status quo and creating new abolitionist policy or approach to sex trafficking in the United States"

Activism and views[edit]

She is one of the leading advocates of the abolitionist view with regards to prostitution. She is seen by many as a key figure linking the feminist and social conservative movements against "sex work", which these movements refer to as "sex trafficking".[9][10] Hughes has received criticism from sex workers' rights activists[11] for her view that laws against sexual exploitation are necessary to combat human trafficking and sexual slavery,[12] and what many see as personal attacks against other academics and activists who support decriminalization of prostitution.[13][14][15][16][17]

Hughes suggested that government-funded HIV prevention programs should check that sex workers were not victims of abuse, rather than simply hand out condoms. 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.[18] 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."[19] 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.[20][failed verification]

Hughes, in her efforts against sex trafficking and prostitution, has received support from Princeton scholar Robert P. George.[21]

Transgender issues[edit]

In March 2021, Hughes published an essay titled, "Fantasy Worlds on the Political Right and Left: QAnon and Trans-Sex Beliefs", on the self-described radical feminist website 4W.[22] The essay compared the beliefs of transgender activists to the right-wing conspiracy theory QAnon, and characterized various hormonal and surgical treatments and pro-trans language reforms as dystopian.[4][22] Such statements prompted backlash from students and faculty at URI, who considered the essay transphobic and emblematic of larger problematic culture at the university.[22] This response prompted the University of Rhode Island to release a statement distancing itself from the essay, while affirming Hughes' general academic freedom to express such views.[23] Hughes rejected the criticisms, saying that she had made no anti-transgender statements. She characterized the university's caveat that such academic freedom was "not boundless" as "egregious affront to my free speech and academic freedom rights".

Prostitution in Rhode Island controversy[edit]

From 2006 to 2009, Hughes was a leading figure in the campaign to end the decriminalized status of indoor prostitution in Rhode Island,[13][24][25] so that police could conduct anti-sex trafficking investigations. She is 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.[26]

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.[13][27] This version of the bill was signed into law in November 2009.[28] 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.[29][30]

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"),[31][32][33][34] also citing remarks made about Andelloux in an earlier Providence Journal editorial by Hughes,[13][14][15][34] as well as in a bulletin on the Citizens Against Trafficking website.[34][35] A 6-month zoning battle followed with the city of Pawtucket; the CSPH was eventually allowed to open in early 2010.[34]

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.[36]

Selected publications[edit]


  • Hughes, Donna M.; Roche, Claire M.., eds. (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.; Raymond, Janice G.; Gomez, Carol (March 2001). Sex trafficking of women in the United States: international and domestic trends. Kingston, Rhode Island: Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. Pdf.
  • 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]

Journal articles[edit]


  1. ^ Donna Hughes (professor), Faith Skodmin (undergraduate researcher), Rachel Dunham (undergraduate researcher), Lucy Tillman (undergraduate researcher) (10 October 2014). Analysis of Human Trafficking Cases in Rhode Island 2009-2013 (YouTube). uri its (University of Rhode Island, Information Technology Services). Retrieved 30 December 2015. Related powerpoint presentation.
  2. ^ "Legal prostitution: Donna M. Hughes, PhD". Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  3. ^ "Editorial board: Sexualization, Media, and Society". Sage. 2015-10-27. Retrieved 4 January 2016.
  4. ^ a b Flaherty, Colleen (March 25, 2021). "At Odds With Her University Over Gender Identity: Gender studies professor says the University of Rhode Island's statement about her essay on trans rights is an affront to her free speech". Inside Higher Ed.
  5. ^ a b c Hughes, Donna (Spring–Summer 2000). "Scientific, feminist, and personal epistemologies: conflicts and opportunities". Women's Studies Quarterly. 28 (1–2): 305–312. JSTOR 40004462. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-06-02. Retrieved 2009-09-02.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  6. ^ Klein, Renate; Hawthorne, Susan (1999), "Feminist resistance to war and violence in Serbia", in Klein, Renate; Hawthorne, Susan (eds.), Cyberfeminism: connectivity, critique and creativity, North Melbourne: Spinifex Press, p. 422, ISBN 9781875559688. Preview.
  7. ^ "Donna Hughes (faculty page)". University of Rhode Island. Archived from the original on 17 December 2001. Retrieved 26 November 2010.
  8. ^ Uri QuadAngles (Spring 2009), "White House Visit", in Uri QuadAngles (ed.), The University of Rhode Island Alumni Magazine, via Issuu, p. 8.
  9. ^ Hughes, Donna M. (8 July 2003). "Lilya and Uncle Tom: a landmark work of the contemporary abolitionist movement". National Review Online.
  10. ^ Hughes, Donna M.; Chesler, Phyllis (22 February 2004). "Feminism in the 21st century" (PDF). Washington Post.
  11. ^ admin (25 June 2009). "Women's studies professor isn't listening to women: sex workers clash with "experts" in Rhode Island". Sex Work Awareness (blog). Archived from the original on 1 December 2011.
  12. ^ Hughes, Donna M. (4 September 2009). "Senators' prostitution bill is a sham". The Providence Journal. Archived from the original on 29 June 2011.
  13. ^ a b c d Hughes, Donna M. (24 June 2009). "R.I.'s carnival of prostitution". The Providence Journal. Archived from the original on 2 October 2011.
  14. ^ a b Andelloux, Megan J. (25 June 2009). "Letter's page: Professor's name calling of sex workers". The Providence Journal.
  15. ^ a b Lawrence, Matthew (25 June 2009). "URI women's studies professor horrified by tattooed women". Providence Daily Dose. Archived from the original on 30 September 2015.
  16. ^ Hughes, Donna; Brooks, Margaret (14 August 2009). "International sex radicals campaign to keep prostitution decriminalized in Rhode Island: Part 1". Citizens Against Trafficking. Retrieved 25 August 2009. Pdf.
  17. ^ Lawrence, Matthew (15 August 2009). "Sex radicals' international conspiracy afoot in RI, apparently". Providence Daily Dose. Retrieved 19 August 2009.
  18. ^ Various (19 June 2002). "Foreign government complicity in human trafficking: a review of the State Department's "2002 Trafficking in Persons Report"". Committee on International Relations, U.S. House of Representatives.
  19. ^ Various (9 April 2003). "Trafficking in women and children in East Asia and beyond: a review of U.S. policy". Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Committee on International Relations, U.S. House of Representatives. Archived from the original on 14 July 2014.
  20. ^ Shapiro, Nina (25 August 2004). "The new abolitionists". Seattle Weekly. Sound Publishing.
  21. ^ George, Robert P. (1 November 2013). "Exploitation and the culture of impunity (blog)". First Things.
  22. ^ a b c Gagosz, Alexa (March 25, 2021). "URI students, staff: Professor's essay with "anti-transgender perspectives" signals an ongoing problem". Boston Globe. Retrieved March 27, 2021.
  23. ^ Borg, Linda (March 25, 2021). "URI embroiled in controversy over professor's comments about transgender individuals". Providence Journal. Retrieved March 27, 2021.
  24. ^ Arsenault, Mark (25 November 2006). "Cicilline to co-host forum on human trafficking, parlors". The Providence Journal. Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. Retrieved 16 August 2010.
  25. ^ Arditi, Lynn (17 September 2009). "Sex workers testify at Senate hearing on prostitution bill". The Providence Journal. Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. Retrieved 16 August 2010.
  26. ^ Hurley, Tara (director) (2009). Happy Endings? (documentary). It's Not Easy Productions.
  27. ^ Hughes, Donna M. (4 September 2009). "Senators' prostitution bill is a sham". The Providence Journal. Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. Pdf of article, pp. 1-2.
  28. ^ Arditi, Lynn (3 November 2009). "Bill signing finally outlaws prostitution in R.I." The Providence Journal. Archived from the original on 7 October 2011. Retrieved 3 October 2009.
  29. ^ Jabour, Paul V.; McCaffrey, Michael J. (30 August 2009). "Commentary: Fixing 'sex-worker industry': Senate ends prostitution loophole". The Providence Journal. Retrieved 13 July 2014. Article ID: 152423C09579D550. Pdf of article, pp. 3-4.
  30. ^ Levesque, Chuck (9 September 2009). "Letters to the editor: Anti-prostitution law means more deaths". The Providence Journal. Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. Retrieved 13 July 2014.
  31. ^ Hauk, Alexis (30 September 2009). "Hot controversy over sexuality center in Pawtucket". Providence Phoenix. Phoenix Media/Communications Group. Archived from the original on 9 October 2009. Retrieved 11 July 2010.
  32. ^ Lawrence, Matthew (2 October 2009). "Donna Hughes on our nation's autoerotic asphyxiation epidemic (blog)". Providence Daily Dose. PDD via WordPress. Retrieved 11 July 2010.
  33. ^ Littlefield, Amy (3 December 2009). "Female sexologist awaits Pawtucket Zoning Board". Women's eNews. Women's eNews, Inc. Retrieved 11 July 2010.
  34. ^ a b c d Minkin, Tracey (April 2010). "The SexEd Warrior-Queen". Rhode Island Monthly. Rhode Island Monthly Communications. Archived from the original on 2010-06-14. Retrieved 2010-04-21.
  35. ^ Hughes, Donna; Brooks, Margaret (23 September 2009). "Sex radicals' vision for Rhode Island". Citizens Against Trafficking. Pdf.
  36. ^ Achorn, Edward (23 March 2010). "Gang-rape threat isn't 'free speech'". The Providence Journal. Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. Retrieved 12 July 2010.

External links[edit]