Standing up for Abstinence

December 5th, 2009

It is an undeniable truth that young teens are having sex.  Brainwashed by dishonest and sex-charged propaganda in the media, kids start believing at a young age that their futures as young adults must necessarily include promiscuous sexual behavior. Without even realizing it “the average kid today is immersed in sexual imagery” (Masland, MSNBC).  In fact, CBS News released an article which found that youth exposed to high levels of media are more than twice as likely to engage in sexual intercourse (Lagorio).

Think about it; almost every popular song on any contemporary radio station has a provocative message.  Practically every movie that is targeted for teens includes some allusion to (or explicitly shows) teens having sex.  Magazines created for American youth carry graphic articles and advertisements that beguile the young reader into thinking that rampant and reckless sexual activity is merely the natural and expected behavior of people their age.   And one musn’t underestimate the power of peer-pressure; think of the insanely cliché but still-relevant stereotype of high schoolers loosing their virginity on prom night.  In light of the philosophies that our youth hold, sometimes the concept of refraining from sex is ruthlessly ridiculed in these settings.

Besides some religious organizations, there is virtually no institution anymore that promotes the idea of abstinence.  And with this constant bombardment of sex (from the media, their peers and even their role models) what are kids to think in this world?  How are they to even know that abstinence exists as an alternative option to sex?

For this reason, schools need to be the place where kids hear about abstinence. The programs that they endorse should be based on abstinence-only sexual education.  While the governmental administration between 1998 and 2003 put a large quantity of federal dollars (250 million in fact) towards the Title V initiative which promoted abstinence (Advocates for Youth 1), the current Obama administration did not renew this grant in the 2010 budget (Kliff, Newsweek) and our nation’s children are at risk of losing this last, sex-free safe haven. For the good of our youth in a poisoned society, this cannot happen.

There is currently little congruence and conformity regarding nation-wide sexual education; it varies between school districts and states.  While some kids sing songs about abstinence and talk about ways to date without having sex, other kids (myself included in this latter category when I was a tot) are handed a banana and a condom and are shown how to put it on. What these pubescent, hormonally-uncontrollable teens need is NOT the know-how and the necessary tools to go wild (one could say that’s like giving a drug addict a needle and then asking him or her not to use it), but rather a consistent emphasis on waiting for sex until they are actually physically, mentally and emotionally ready for it.  And all schools should be promoting this uniform mentality; the fact that comprehensive programs out there are sending mixed signals to kids is what could potentially undermine the impact of abstinence-only education.

You may be thinking but most would agree that abstinence-only education is ineffective.  This is not true; the undisputed fact remains that the most certain way to stop STDs from spreading and from teen pregnancy occurring is by abstaining entirely from sex. The Planned Parenthood Website states that “used continuously, abstinence is 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. It also prevents STDs.”  Like I said earlier, the key to its success will be promoting it in a collective and organized way.  But how is abstinence only education going to benefit those who are already sexually active? you say.  It would be entirely wrong to presume that these students would not be positively affected; the article by Collins, Alagiri and Summers states that “some students choose abstinence after initiation of sexual activity with about one in four student who report having had sex also reporting current abstinence.”  If anything, abstinence-only education can only benefit all young individuals.

Perhaps you are thinking but what about the facts; numbers and statistics show that thousands of teens out there get pregnant and contract STDs to which I say “Indeed, let’s look at the facts”…

According to the article “Abstinence Only Vs. Comprehensive Sex Education”, The U S. has the highest teen pregnancy and STD rates in the developed world (Chris Collins, Alagiri, Summers, 2); there are up to 850,000 teen pregnancies every year (Advocates for Youth: Effective Sex Education 1).  Additionally, “the great majority of the 10,000 annual new HIV infections among people under 22 occurs through sexual activity” (Collins, Alagiri, Summers 1) and 3 million teens contract STDs each year (Rector 1).

These numbers, rather than hurt my argument, show exactly why abstinence is so important.   “Abstinence  education  programs  for  youth  have  been  proven  to  be  effective  in  reducing  early  sexual  activity…[and] provide  the  foundation  for  personal responsibility” (Rector 1).  In this same article, the author brings up the point that besides just eliminating those astonishing statistics, abstinence also prevents youth from incurring severe emotional and mental injury, and simultaneously reduces their likelihood of engaging in other high-risk activities.  The article also evaluates the success of such programs as Virginity Pledge Programs, Not Me, Not Now, Operation Keepsake, and Postponing Sexual Involvement.  When schools offer these supportive resources, and encourage youth to seek alternative activities to sex, abstinence-only education is both beneficial and effective.

For those of you who still aren’t quite convinced, and that think that comprehensive sex-ed is a good idea, consider the ‘age of consent’ law (recall that this is a state’s legal age limit of when youth can engage in sexual activity).  The youth below this age who are receiving comprehensive sex-ed are essentially being encouraged by the school to break the law. If sex is illegal at this point in their lives, why should they even be talking about it?  Rather, abstinence only education is the only way to comply with this regulation.

Thus, it is for many reasons that schools should be using abstinence-only education programs; if not to provide youth with alternative options to intercourse in a sex-ridden society, to halt the STD epidemic and reduce teen pregnancies.  After all, “True abstinence education programs help young people to develop an understanding of  commitment, fidelity, and intimacy” (Rector  8 ) which will positively affect all aspects of their lives.

Collins, Alagiri, Summers.  “Abstinence Only vs. Comprehensive Sex Education: What are the arguments? What is the evidence?”  Progressive Health Partners, 2002.

“Effective Sex Education”.  Advocates for Youth

Kliff, Sara.  “The Future of Abstinence”.  Newsweek Oct. 2009 <>

Lagorio, Christine.  “Media May Prompt Teen Sex.”  CBSNews  April 2006 <>

Masland, Molly. “Carnal Knowledge: the sex ed debate.”  MSNBC News 2009

Rector, Robert E.  “The Effectiveness of Abstinence Education Programs in Reducing Sexual Activity Among Youth.”  http://www.

Makeover to keep up or enforce stereotypes?

December 4th, 2009

The Sun-Maid raisin girl has gotten a makeover. She has been tweaked to keep up with today’s social norms. The girl featured on the boxes has been around since 1915 and has been updated several times in the last almost century. Is this a positive change? To keep the product from looking stale? Or is enforcing negative norms of how thin a girl should be. If you follow the link you will see the original Sun-Maid raisin girl had a rounder looking face, and appeared to be larger. The new girl is trim and fit looking. The company claims to be updating the appearance to advertise a healthy lifestyle. Is this woman actually what a woman at a healthy weight would be? Or is she undernourished? While the picture is drawn, and the woman isn’t real, the over appearance can affect the people who see the product even without buying it.

Commercial Sex Workers in India – Resource Pack

December 4th, 2009

When our group chose the topic of commercial sex workers in India, we knew that India was dealing with a substantial problem. However, I don’t think we understood how significant the problem is, and I don’t think we knew really how much was being done about it. Consequently, we chose resources that present the facts about sex work in India and that show what people are doing to reduce sex work and its negative effects.

Studying commercial sex work is important and relevant to our class because it exemplifies the idea that the personal is political. All of the sex workers in India have a story of why they chose or were forced to enter the sex work industry. Most of these stories relate back to another problem in India. For example, one of the prostitutes interviewed in one of our sources said that she became a sex worker to support her family after her husband left her. She said she was uneducated about the field and was not aware of the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases. She feels exploited as a sex worker. This example raises the question of why she felt that after her husband left her, her only option was to become a prostitute. Perhaps it reveals India’s lack of sex equality in the workplace. If women were given equal opportunities in the workplace, they might not become sex workers in such high numbers (there are 60,000 sex workers in one district in Mumbai).

Sex work in India is also relevant to our class because it relates to our theme of the regulation of sex, sexuality, and identity. For all of the women who are sex workers, their sexuality and identity is being controlled by the men who continually use their services. They are also controlled by the government, which has not outlawed sex work (prostitution is legal in India, but prostitutes are not allowed to solicit customers in public). Also, sex work raises the issue of stigma versus shame. Sex workers are stigmatized; their shame cannot go away. Even after sex workers are too old to be working, they are still marked as prostitutes.

Finally, when thinking about commercial sex work in India, it is important to realize the horrors of the situation, but it is more important to go one step further and recognize what people are doing to help the women who are facing oppression, HIV and other diseases, and abuse. Our resources highlight what specific individuals, groups, and the sex workers themselves are doing to improve conditions for commercial sex workers in India. Instead of simply feeling sorry for these women, we can support the steps that are being taken to alleviate this problem.

(Each heading is a link.)

FRONTLINE/WORLD India: The Sex Workers

This is part one of a video series by PBS, that provides a valuable inside look at the lives of Indian sex workers in Mumbai.  It touches on the women (and young girls’) experiences and the challenges they face: from condom use to HIV treatment, from sex worker unions to security issues. Although the documentary was made five years ago in 2004, it provides useful details and perspectives.

Demography and sex work characteristics of female sex workers in India

This article summarizes some of the demographics of female sex workers in Andhra Pradesh. It also explains the HIV problem in India that is largely linked to sex work.  Many times the lack of knowledge about HIV and the limited access of condoms are main reasons to the cause of HIV.  The method of this research consisted of documenting the demographics and sex work characteristics of female sex workers.  By using this method, the BMC Public Health Team would be able to analyze how to decrease the spread of HIV by trying to prevent the transmission as the first step.  According to the conclusion, researchers found that, “More comprehensive prevention efforts are needed that include changing the social and legal context of sex work, which would create an environment for sustained reduction of HIV risk in female sex workers.”

This link is to an online news source about all things India.  The specific article from this week gives statistical information and a numerical estimate to help grasp the severity of the issue of Sex workers in India. It also brings up the role of the Ministery for Women and Child Development sector of Indian government in the issue.

Border Thinking on Migration, Trafficking and Commercial Sex

This blog is written by Laura Augstín, who writes from experience on topics centered around sex, travel, and work. This specific post entitled “Changing prices for sex work in Sonagachi, a Kolkata red-light district” provides a powerful account of the effects of the economic downturn on the sex worker’s industry. It includes personal accounts of Indian women, as well as readers’ reactions to the topic.

Bill Gates visits prostitutes in India

This video clip is from a newscast by New Tang Dynasty Television about billionaire Bill Gates visiting a red-light district in Pune, India known for its high population of sex workers. It talks about the connection between commercial sex workers and the spread of HIV, and also gives a different perspective of a well-known figure in U.S. pop culture.

New magazine features sex workers’ stories about life in Indian brothels

This newspaper article discusses a new magazine Red Light Dispatch that is written by and for sex workers in India. The magazine is similar to a CR Group in that it features women’s personal stories. To the authors and readers, it is “journalism of purpose.”

Protests for sex workers’ rights

This article is an example of one of the many outside groups who are trying to combat sex work in India. Groups like the one highlighted in the article are working with sex workers to prevent HIV. They are staging protests and lobbying the government.

Sex workers learn karate to defend themselves

This video shows a step sex workers are taking to protect themselves from abusive clients. They are learning karate so if they ever feel like they are treated badly they can defend themselves.

Sexual Violence in Mexico-Resource Pack

December 4th, 2009

Since Mexico is Gustavus’s self-proclaimed country of focus this year, our group decided to follow the trend and focus on Mexico and its politics as it relates to sex and power.  Specifically, our resource pack explores the causes and effects sexual violence toward women has on the Mexican society and government.  Sex, Power, and Politics discusses how “the government has legitimized only certain individuals as political actors” and furthermore, deemed that “certain identities are politically relevant” in the government – the topic of sexual violence in Mexico continues this course theme.

The rise and persistence of sexual violence towards women in Mexico has caught the attention of the foreign press and human rights groups.  In Mexico, the government has failed to protect women to the same extent that they protect men from invasion and have played down the widespread cases of rape, femicide, and sex trafficking – especially amongst its poorest female inhabitants.  Furthermore, reporting on many of these crimes is considered “sensationalistic journaling” and thus illegal by the Mexican government.  As a consequence of this policy, the Mexican media is unable to publicize any of the injustices done to these women.  This resource pack informs readers of these injustices and allows readers to explore how sexual violence has led the Mexican government to choose only “certain individuals as political actors” – mainly excluding poor women from this exclusive category.

Another main theme of this course is the “historical, legal and cultural factors that help shape public policies related to sex (and) gender”.  Therefore, our resource pack has taken a special interest in how the Mexican government has resisted persecuting and criminalizing sexual violence.  For example, some of our resources are first person accounts of sexual violence, sometimes even violence committed by the Mexican police themselves, and describes the long legal process these women have had to endure to get justice for the crimes.  These articles describe how justice is found often in other countries and on the international stage as the Mexican government and legal system have a history of overlooking such crimes.  Through these documents and articles, we have provided the materials necessary to be able to discuss the legal and cultural elements of sexual violence in Mexico both from a historical and modern perspective.

You may notice that some of these source are graphic and direct about the specific sexual violence present in Mexico, yet we feel that these first hand accounts are essential in being able to relate on a fundamental level to the victims of these crimes.  Often sexual violence is analyzed through statistics and legal studies, and while these aspects are important, we feel studying sexual violence through an academic lens can obscure the reality of the issue.  The combination of both personal accounts and scholarly reports of sexual violence in Mexico will provide a complete picture of the issue that our neighbors to the south are dealing with.

Katie, Kaitlyn, Kyle, Mara, Marlene, Martin

Acharya, Arun Kumar. “Sexual Violence and Proximate Risks: A Study Trafficked Women in Mexico City.” Gender, Technology and Development 12.1 (2008): 77-99.

In this study about sex trafficking in Mexico, the researcher did in the field interviews with women involved with sex trafficking.  These women describe the false promises that were made to them once they started getting involved with sex trafficking and gives many details about how violent this business is.  Furthermore, this article discusses the causes for sex trafficking in Mexico and how the business draws from primarily poor and uneducated women for their business.  Not only are these women subjected to violence and abuse once in the human trafficking rings, but after they are declared “too old” by their pimps, they suffer long term physical and psychological repercussions.

Carroll, Amy Sara. “‘Accidental Allegories’ Meet ‘The Performative Documentary’: Boystown, Señorita Extraviada, and the Border-Brothel?Maquiladora Paradigm.” Signs 31.2 (2006): 357-396. JSTOR. Web. 1 Dec. 2009.

When looking for diverse sources, our group found it difficult to find many primary online sources that look directly into sexual violence in Mexico.  Carroll’s article analyzes two of these sources that we would have liked to show you directly but was unable to get electronic copies of – one is a video called Señorita Extraviad and the other is a collection of photographs by Bill Wittliff called Boystown.  Carroll uses these primary sources to describe the culture of the “Border” (between Mexico and the US) as a culture which treats women as erotic objects and perpetrates the sexual violence toward women.   While this article is very theoretical and can be a little verbose, we suggest viewing it if only for its reference to the primary sources/photographs and the conclusions the author draws from these sources.

Fregoso, Rosa Linda. “The Complexities of “Feminicide” on the Border.” Color of Violence: the Incite! Anthology.. ‘Ed’. INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence . Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2006. Print. (Also found at:

This excerpt from Color of Violence: the Incite! Anthology discusses the trend of femicide in Mexico and how that is related to sexual violence towards women.  Furthermore, the author suggests that the reason for this violence is due to the culture’s tendency for overwhelming patriarchal systems.  This article goes on to discuss the ethnic and class relationship these instances have with sexual violence and implies that the sexual violence is tolerated because it keeps poor and ethnic women away from being involved in the government. This article suggests that the systematic murder of women is targeted at the most oppressed group of Mexican society: dark skinned women.

“Impunity for Sexual and Domestic Violence.” Human Rights Watch. 06 Mar 2006. Human Rights Watch, Web. 1 Dec 2009. <>.

This report from the Human Rights Watch describes the legal system in Mexico and the effects it has on cases of sexual violence in the country.  This report details the effects of sexual violence on women in Mexico. The Human Rights Watch argues that the Impunity for sexual and domestic violence in Mexico is “rooted in three main problems, underreporting and underestimation of the extent of domestic and sexual violence, an inadequate legal framework for prevention, protection, and punishment; and lax implementation of existing legal standards.”  This article discusses each of these problems in more cultural and legal details. Most importantly, this report explains how the legal system in Mexico has lead to widespread sexual violence and an absence of justice for the women of Mexico in both the legal and health systems.

Malkin, Elisabeth and Ginger Thompson. “Mexican Court Says Sex Attack by a Husband Is Still a Rape.” New York Times 17 Nov. 2005: n. pag. Web. 12 Nov. 2009. <>.

This newspaper article says that Mexican women are now legally defended against rape in marriage, but women still rarely report rape. From 1994 to 2005, Mexican law stated forced relations by a spouse were not rape, because the main purpose of marriage was procreation. Despite the legal progress of women keeping their sexual freedom during marriage, the majority of people believe women should be subservient. This attitude creates many obstacles to women reporting sexual violence, like rape within marriage.

“Sexual Assault in Mexico, on the Border, and in the U.S.” 26 11 2006. Web. 1 Dec 2009. <>.

This blog post was inspired by The Color of Violence: The INCITE! Anthology, which we have also used as a part of our resource pack.  The blog post quotes women testifying that the Federal Preventive Police have sexually assaulted them. This is happening not only in Mexico, but also in San Salvador, this is important to realize because while we are learning of problems in Mexico, the issues are not necessarily unique, and that is what makes the problems most troubling. The blog post also includes pictures of the military and how just because they are supposed to enforce the law, does not mean that they do not break the law and assault women.

“Mexico: Torture and sexual violence against women detained in San Salvador Atenco – Two years of injustice and impunity.” Amnesty International. 28 04 2008. Amnesty International, Web. 1 Dec 2009. <>

This Amnesty International report is important to our resource pack because it backs up the Delete the Border blog show before. We include both because we wanted to show that there are people blogging about the issue of sexual violence in Mexico as well as organizations who are aware of the situation. The Amnesty International report is different because it has paragraphs of accounts from women who were assaulted, as well as includes sections that include: Fatalities during the operation still unclarified, Torture as a means of control… and Inadequate investigations, as well as many others. These sections are especially important because they show that people are trying to speak out, however the results are not acceptable.

NorteSur,  Frontera. “Historic Femicide Trial Gets Underway.” New America Media. 05 May 2009., Web. 1 Dec 2009. < >.

This is a case study about sexual violence in Mexico. In Historic Femicide Trial, the article presents the legal side of sexual violence in Mexico.  The article discusses case of a group of Mexican women who were unable to get justice in Mexico for Femicide cases and thus took their case against the Mexican government to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Chile. In addition to the lack of justice that exists for these women, the government has been widely accused as having zero credibility for legal cases. The hope is that the result of this case will set a precedent for future cases about sexual violence against women in Mexico.

“Power” Art:21. Public Broadcasting Station. 2001.

Watch the part where there are 17:30-13:25 minutes left

This is a video about Krzysztof Wodiczko, a projection artist who addresses many social issues and more specifically “The Tijuana Projection” in Tijuana, Mexico in 2000.  This video shows parts of the projection project and has the artist discussing his motives for doing this project.  A quote from Krzysztof Wodiczko on the project, “The issues that were brought were taboo- of incest, rape- and issues of poisoning in the factories…irreversible damage to human health that, according to some major economic action groups in Tijuana, should not be public to protect the interests of owners of factories and corrupt politicians. Those hidden things came out so abruptly that I realized that this projection was not going to be easy for anybody. This was going to be a blast of truth that would be a shock to those who would like to be entertained.”

Speas, Adrianne. “Comment and Casenote: Sexual Harassment in Mexico: Is NAFTA enough?” Law and Business Review of the Americas 83 (2006). LexisNexis Academic. Web. 2 Dec. 2009.

This article explains that sexual harassment in Mexico is categorized as discrimination in the workplace. It specifically discusses how sexual harassment is commonplace in factories. The second section, as defined by the author, discusses influences to the prevalence of sexual harassment and how the Mexican laws do not adequately address sexual harassment instances. This is one of the few resources that could be located in English that talks about Mexican law related to sexual violence. Although sexual harassment does not always have to be violent, some sexual violence is included under sexual harassment. This resource may not be the most recent document, since it is from 2006, but it does do a good job of explaining Mexican law related to sexual harassment. The document is from the professional journal Law and Business Review of the Americas.

Uribe-Elias, R. “Sexual Violence and the Obstetrician/Gynecologist.” International Journal of Gynecology Obstetrics (2003): 425-433. Web. 1 Dec. 2009. <>.

This medical article says gynecologist/obstetrician (G/O) professions should lead the social commitment against violence, especially sexual violence against Mexican women. This article includes the results of a survey conducted in Mexico on the opinions and practices of GOs. Since the gynecologist/obstetrician (G/O) professionals takes care of women’s health, especially the reproductive organs, the healthcare practitioners should work with the legal authorities to build up social support for sexually assaulted women. It is necessary to sensitize and train G/Os and other physicians in bio-ethics, and look for formal support of such activities in the legislative branch of Mexican government.

Relationship violence is NOT normal

December 3rd, 2009

I was looking at the headlines today and noticed a disturbing trend in teen relationship violence. Katie Couric interviewed two teenagers who experienced relationship violence and emotional abuse from their significant other and believed that it was part of a normal relationship.  Since March of 2007 and March 2008, the amount of calls and emails to the National Teen Dating Violence Hotline increased almost 600 percent, and in a recent survey showed that 25 percent of teenagers claim they are experiencing physical violence in their romantic relationships.

Despite some of the advantages of technological advances, the article describes how technology like texting, instant messaging, and online social networking has simply added to the amount of control partners can have over their significant other in a relationship.

While our class has looked at the different ways society views sex and gender, this article explains that the increase of teen relationship violence is a result of the constant messages teenagers receive from pop culture images objectifying and degrading women. When 15-year olds are proclaiming, “it’s hard to resist violence,” we need to step up and inform teens that relationship violence is NOT normal.

Human Trafficking Resource Pack

December 3rd, 2009

Slavery.  For many people living comfortably in the United States, this word is archaic and obsolete.  Perhaps at the very most it grates on our ears in a mildly unpleasant way as it reminds us of the barbaric and gruesome African slave trade that the US and other Western countries participated in.  But that was hundreds of years ago and such undignified behavior is no longer a problem.  Or is it?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a slave as “one that is completely subservient to a dominating influence”.  In the case of the sex slave trade that is currently happening between various countries internationally, the “dominating influence” is society’s disregard for the bodily integrity of women.  The involuntary bondage of these women and young girls strips them of every personal right that they have. They are tricked, coerced and lured into this trade by kidnappings and promises of jobs and economic security then literally become the possessions and property of others.  Every aspect of their bodies is controlled by someone else with the strict intention of making money.   Our Consciousness Raising group decided to focus on this particular topic in an attempt to understand how such a demoralizing and deeply inhumane occurrence can still be happening in what we like to consider a modern and civilized world.

Thus, in light of the fact that we have spent a considerable amount of time discussing personal liberty in Sex, Power and Politics, we thought this theme was particularly relevant.  When we learned about the legality of abortion in class, we talked about a woman’s right to bodily integrity and physical privacy; how no external presence (neither the invasion of a fetus nor the influence of the government) can ultimately choose the way in which she decides to maintain her own body.   What violates this right more than the trafficking of women for sex?

Likewise, we discussed sodomy and the way the government regarded the practice of homosexual behavior (such as in Bowers v Hardwick),  and came to the conclusion that peoples’ right to sexual intimacy is protected, and that they can conduct themselves in whichever sexual manner (provided it’s consensual) they please.  Likewise, they and they have the right to deny and abstain from any sort of sexual interaction.  What is more invasive than selling another human’s body for sex?

When we talked about sodomy and the way the government regarded the practice of homosexual behavior (such as in Bowers v Hardwick), we came to the conclusion that peoples’ right to sexual intimacy is protected and that they can conduct themselves in whichever sexual manner (provided its consensual) they please.  Likewise, they have the right to deny and abstain from any sort of sexual interaction.  What is more invasive than selling another human’s body for sex?

Many argue that the State has no place in the bedroom, yet we frequently say that “the personal is political”.  In attempts to maintain order, promote safety, and protect rights, the government frequently walks precariously on the line between what is personal and what is political.  Yet in the context of the sex slave trade, there seems to be a ghostly absence of legal enforcement and justice.  In many countries, corrupt or weaker governments turn their heads at the presence of human trafficking.  We found resources that describe the problem in Asian countries (such as Thailand and Cambodia) and in other parts of the world, and how in such extreme conditions of poverty it is hardly practical to tackle the problem of the sex slave trade when so many other issues simultaneously need to be addressed.  When such a terrible phenomenon is so close to home, one certainly could say that the personal is political.

Our group found various articles, websites, videos, etc. ranging from academic sources explaining the causes and consequences of human trafficking to sources promoting public awareness about the issue and encouraging an active fight in ending sex slavery.  Some sources were initiated through personal experience while others were written from a completely outside perspective.  Some described the effects human trafficking has in countries on the other side of the globe while others portrayed the effect it has in our own nation.  Through our research we discovered that human trafficking affects women everywhere; it affects women of all races, gender, and age groups.  The current increase of globalization severely aggravates this problem and thus calls for a global cooperation and effort.  Like we have learned in our readings on feminism, abortion, transgender issues, etc., effective political action cannot be made until we approach this issue in an all-encompassing way.  We must advocate for change in a way that integrates the perspectives and personal stories of all women and children that sex slavery touches.  We must cross the boundaries society builds between cultures, ethnicities, ideologies, and gender and join together as human beings fighting for a single cause: the right to live as a free individual.

ECPAT International is an organization dedicated to fighting the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC). ECPAT follows what governments are doing and have done to combat CSEC and publishes the results. Most interesting is the international updates under the global overview.

This video shows child sex trafficking and specifically sites a group (Love146) that has come together to actively fight the world of sex trafficking.  They open by relating the issue directly to the viewer by making them think of the issue in terms of the people they love, asking them what they would do if someone they loved was sold into this world.

This is a picture of a girl who is clearly involved in sex trafficking.  I think this picture does a good job of depicting sex trafficking as its true form.  Girls can be lured into sex trafficking through bribes that range from opportunities to travel and a way to make money.  What they don’t know are all the negative characteristics of this life.

Captive Daughters is an organization committed to ending sex trafficking with a focus on girls and women. Nepal and Albania are their current focus. Click on either Nepal or Albania to learn the latest news about sex trafficking. You can also learn how to get involved, and find book and film resources categorized by the region.

Shared Hope International aims raise awareness of sex trafficking and to prevent it through examinations of the conditions that allow sex trafficking. There is a brief history of trafficking under the ‘sex trafficking’ tab. This site includes ways to take action as well as personal stories.

Slavery Map is a virtual map of recorded instances of human trafficking. Click on one of the bubbles with an exclamation mark to learn details of the report. There have been 961 reports since June 6, 2008.

This link is a podcast by Allison Kasic from the Independent Women’s Forum.  She clarifies what human trafficking means, describing it as “modern-day slavery.”  Addressing it both domestically and globally, she describes the shocking prevalence of young women being sold into the sex trade in India and Taiwan, but also describes how it is a problem within the US too, and that diplomatic pressure is needed to make a change.

This video is from CNN’s report on human trafficking in Cambodia with Anderson Cooper.  It shows how young girls are lured into the city in hopes of finding employment but then are trapped in a life of prostitution.

This website is updated by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. They are a non-governmental organization that works to promote women’s human rights and combat sexual exploitation of all kinds. On this website are the latest CATW resources that discuss issues regarding the sexual exploitation of women throughout the world. An especially interesting part of the website is Abolishing Prostitution: The Swedish Solution – an interview with Gunilla Ekberg, a long time radical feminist and lawyer.

The Public Broadcast Station has a portion of their website devoted to Frontline, thought provoking journalism on air and online. On that is a section on Sex Slaves – describing the world problem as well as sharing links to other websites and related articles. The related articles lend a broad assortment of issues relating to sex trafficking.

The Child Exploitation and Obscenity section of the U.S. Department of Justice website discusses Trafficking and Child Sex Tourism as well as other issues that fall under the broad category. Each page discusses statistics and facts related to the issue of sex trafficking and child exploitation and gives additional resources on sex trafficking. Unlike the other websites, this one focuses on children.

This is a web resource for combating human trafficking. They provide information on the current situation of trafficking in multiple countries. Although the focus is not on sex trafficking it does include information pertaining to that. Posted on June 24, 2009 was an article regarding the US senate voting on a bill banning prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation.

This article does not address the problem of human trafficking per se, but it addresses the dire need for more efficient, recent, reliable data about human trafficking.  The authors express that in order to combat human trafficking, we must have reliable information about it, which includes using better statistics, investing resources so poorer countries can gather reliable data, doing more comparative research, etc.

This article gives a good overview of what human trafficking is and also addresses some of the problems with human trafficking data and comparability between countries.  It presents data from the database of the Global Programme against Trafficking in Human Beings of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, listing countries of origin, transit and destination.  It also addresses the profile of victims of sex trafficking and interestingly enough, the profile of offenders as well.

This article addresses the problem of human trafficking from a more global perspective and addresses the impacts of globalization on sex trafficking.  It also discusses the United States’ and non-profits’  role in combating human trafficking as well as a brief description of the profile of trafficking victims and the exploitative conditions they are forced into.

The information regarding human trafficking is provided on this page and explains the various situations for the particular country. Not all countries have this section, but virtually any country in the world that has known human trafficking problems will have information regarding their current situation in human trafficking.

CREDO mobile: More than a Network. A Movement.

December 3rd, 2009

So I received an email this morning (not sure how I got on their mailing list) from CREDO mobile.  Apparently, it is a mobile phone company that “protects a woman’s right to choose.”  They advocate social change and activism simply by allowing a consumer to “stay connected to what’s important and generate donations from money that would be spent on a phone bill anyway…”  Each phone bill updates CREDO members on issues, and easy ways to speak out.  They have “raised over $60 million for nonprofit groups in [their] five issue areas: civil rights, environment, peace & international freedom, economic & social justice, and voting rights & civic participation.”  Members of CREDO nominate and decide 50 nonprofit groups to fund for the year (as well as how much funding will be provided for each group).

This reminded me of the political strategies relating to privilege as detailed by Ayres and Brown.  Almost anyone can promote social change for any cause that they believe in (although this entail class – the availability to access of cellular phones and long distance plans).  CREDO really seems to “enable people to make a difference in the world by doing the things they do every day” – because why would we otherwise; we like social change to come easy 😉 .  I think it is a great idea, however!

Female Factory Workers in Asia: Resource Pack

December 3rd, 2009

We chose the topic of women factory workers in Asia.  Aspects that we focused on in particular include female workers in blue jean factories in China, the GAP Corporation, the harsh conditions that women are forced to work under, and some of the ways that organizations are advocating for changing these conditions.

We were inspired to research this topic further after watching and discussing the documentary “China Blue”, which is about young female migrant workers in China and the unfair labor conditions that they work and live under.  We were appalled by such horrific conditions – the fact that workers are underpaid, the number of hours that they work, the lack of regard for their mental and physical health, their cramped living conditions, and the strict deadlines that they must meet in producing goods.  A typical day in the life of a factory worker includes a fourteen hour workday, with few to no breaks, meals provided by the factory (although the cost for these meals comes out of the workers’ paychecks), and little sleep.  After watching the documentary, and realizing that the majority of factory workers are young girls or young women who leave their homes to help provide for their families, we were inspired to expand our research to encompass all of Asia.

In thinking about why we chose this particular topic, we realized that American consumers (and consumers in other countries as well) contribute to the conditions that these women work under every day, by purchasing products that are produced in such factories.  By purchasing name brand products (the GAP, Liz Claiborne, Nike, Nokia, etc.), and even by shopping at Wal-Mart, we contribute our money, however indirectly, to the continuation of factory production in Asian countries.  Even before watching the documentary, we as a group were aware that our consumerism contributed to unfair labor conditions; however, it seems to be a predominant view that buying such products is easily justified by the fact that they cost less.  Overall, we chose this topic in order to make you think twice about what you buy, where you buy it, and the fact that your money is really going to the large corporations, at the expense of young women in Asia.

Relating the topic of women factory workers to the general course themes, our initial thought was to raise awareness about women’s rights in other countries.  This is directly related to Sex, Power, and Politics because the majority of what we focused on this semester has in some way been related to women, the societal expectations that are placed upon the different sexes, and how women in other countries are much farther behind in gaining equal rights than we are in the United States.  As for politics and social intervention, we realized that if such conditions existed for any worker in the United States, it would be a much more visible problem.  A recurring theme throughout the semester has been privilege, which is why it is so easy for us to ignore the problem when we are not personally affected by the lives of these women – we do not drive by such factories daily, nor do we know women who work in them.  So in thinking about what we have read this semester, particularly Ayres and Brown and “Calling All Restroom Revolutionaries”, we realize that it is important to do something that advocates change, rather than silently complying with injustices that exist throughout the world.

Megan, Leah, Leigh Ann, Ali, Jaime

1)      “China Blue” Documentary:

This documentary is what gave us the idea to research female factory workers in Asia, specifically the conditions they live in and the terms/conditions of their work in the factory.  Hours are long (sometimes into the early morning), and pay is little (oftentimes withheld until the following pay period).  In addition, workers receive little time off, and much of this time is spent on personal care, such as washing clothes, sleeping, or visiting family.

2)      Alternatives to buying products produced under unfair conditions:

“Clean Clothes Campaign”

Although this website doesn’t solely address women workers in Asia, it provides information about the largest world companies who allow unfair working conditions and pay, as well as numerous ways that one can take action to either raise awareness about such conditions or actively participate in changing them.

“Behind the Label”

This website focuses on worker rights and how to fight sweatshop conditions globally – it does provide links to specific Asian labor campaigns under the “Suggested Links” section.  In addition, under the “Video & Audio” section, there are numerous links to videos and interviews relating to different parts of Asia where such harsh conditions exist.

3)      Programs to Support Migrant Women Workers:

This article posted by The Asia Foundation focuses on the foundation’s work in Guangdung, China.  The article discusses the types of services, programs and workshops the Foundation has implemented in Guangdung.  Services include: education, health services and legal aid services.  The article also highlights some of the dire conditions of the factories and lack of support women factory workers receive.

4)      GAP:

Woman Worker in Garment factory Producing for GAP and Benetton Dies from Excessive Work

According to the co-workers of this Philippine woman, she was killed by her 14 hour workdays everyday plus her 8 hour overtime on Sundays. The horrible part was that the 14 hour shifts are normal at this factory. “The factory produces garments for the GAP, Guess, Jones New York, Eddie Bauer, May Co, Macy, Liz Claiborne, Ellen Tracy, Head, Benetton, Ruff Hewn, LeQ, Chachi, Ralph Lauren, and Banana Republic.” This article brings to light the terrible working conditions of these factories.

Ethical Trading Initiative

Pradeep Kumar works as the Director of Monitoring and Vender Development in Delhi for GAP Inc. He and a group of co-workers monitor over 300 factories across Asia with the goal of improving the standards for garment factories. Although he feels lucky to be where he is at, he is dedicated to improving the work environment for the factory workers. He has seen some horrible things during his time monitoring these factories, but it is helpful to know that someone is doing something about the horrible conditions for these workers.

5)      Thailand & Globalization:

The impact of globalization on the textile and garment industry in Thailand

This article describes how the factory work environment has been changing. The conditions are not the only thing changing, but also the type of work and the type of materials that they have to work with. It discusses the impact that globalization has had on the garment industry over the years.

6)      HIV/AIDS in Vietnamese factories:

This article addresses the complete lack of knowledge factory workers have regarding safe sex and HIV/AIDS.  The article suggests that resources and information should be made available to migrant women factory workers in Vietnam.  This article also emphasizes the lack of time women factory workers would have to learn about this information even if the resources were made available, because of the horrific hours they work. 

7)      Video Clips:

Chinese Factory Workers Protest

This video clip depicts Chinese factory workers protesting at the factory where they are employed, because the company will not pay them for any of the overtime they have worked. The employees also take this opportunity to protest the conditions they are forced to work in, such as stifling heat.

China factory workers living quarters

In this clip from a CNN news report in 2008, a reporter investigates the dormitories provided by Chinese factories for their workers, who are mostly migrants. There are up to 12 beds in a room, and many of the bunks are made up of only blankets and plywood.

Made In China (Wal-mart)

This video depicts a factory which manufactures goods for Wal-mart. It starts out with the CEO of Wal-mart essentially describing how good their relationship with China is, and then switches to tell the tale of a female migrant worker in the Wal-mart factory. She describes her long hours at the factory for meager pay and the effect this job has on her relationships.

8)      Hope for China’s Migrant Women Workers:

This website shows that even though migrant labor has increasingly helped China’s economy, the government still has not provided protections for migrant workers (who are mostly female) that experience substantial violations of their human rights.  This website provides a considerable amount of statistical data and interesting facts, as well as detailing various measures that have been taken to help these migrant women workers.
9)   Made in China: Women Factory Workers in a Global Workplace by Pun Ngai:

*This book is available in the GAC Bernadotte Library General Collection, call number HD6200 P86 2005.

This book by Pun Ngai is an ethnography detailing the eight months she lived as a dagongmei, or working girl, in an electronics factory in China’s Guangdong Province.  She endured the hardships and poor conditions of industrial labor that these young migrant women are increasingly pressured to face by global capitalism, the socialist government, and the patriarchal based family.  This book will really make you realize what a problem this has become recently – it will make you want to make a change!

Religion and Homosexuality

December 3rd, 2009

This statement from the Vatican will be sure to cause some problems with the LGBT community. I wasn’t entirely shocked when I read this, however I was surprised at Cardinal’s declaration that being homosexual is a choice.

Transgender Exclusion: Deeper than Health Insurance, Revisited

December 3rd, 2009

As Irma brings up in her first post, “according to the Transgender Law Center, many transgendered individuals are denied health insurance altogether solely because they are transgender” (TLC, 1). Both Irma and Leigh Ann mention the broken arm/leg incident in which transgendered individuals have been denied coverage for a non-transgender related issue. This is clearly an example of stark discrimination; however it is not what this debate is centered on.  

Before I continue, I would like to remind everyone that the question presented by this debate is not asking whether or not whether insurance companies should cover transgender and transsexual people overall, it’s asking whether or not insurance providers should be required to cover medical procedures related to being a transgender or transsexual (refer to my previous blog post’s definitions segment to see which procedures these are). There’s a difference between an insurance company being required to cover a certain procedure, versus an insurance provider deciding to cover transgender people. As stated in my previous post, by requiring insurance coverage for transsexual and transgender services, we are required to consider them as victims of a mental illness.

Irma mentions the Harry Benjamin Standards of Care which, “strictly outline the diagnosis and procedure that must be followed for a true, medically necessary transition” (TAW, 2). What Irma doesn’t acknowledge however, is that these standards, which Transgender at Work highlights as “the appropriate standard[s] of diagnosis and treatment,” reinforce a dichotomous and inflexible definition of gender.  The Harry Benjamin Standards of Care state that “Two Primary Populations with GID Exist–Biological Males and Biological Females” (Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association). If all insurance companies were instructed to meet the Harry Benjamin Standards of Care, not only would this reiterate the need for a diagnosis for an identity presumably wrong, but also reinforces the confusion of sex with gender, and the incidence of black-and-white, harsh, and narrow definitions of gender.

In her first debate, Irma referred to a segment of the Transgender Health Benefits article produced by Transgender at Work that also struck me as quite interesting. The article states that the best way to see if health benefits are discriminatory is to “see if the same procedures would be covered for non-transsexuals by the same plan” (TAW, 1). This would seem to be a reasonable strategy, however it only further stresses how being transgendered or transsexual is equivalent to having a disease. By calling for the comparison of mastectomies or hysterectomies being covered in the case of cancer to being transsexual, there is clearly a preexisting assumption that those who are transgendered or transsexual are tormented by an illness. I would argue that this assumption isn’t safe to make because not all of those who identify as transgender express a need for surgeries, or as Susan Stryker highlights “some transgender people question why gender change needs to be medicalized in the first place” (Stryker, 14).

Irma calls for my attention to the National Coalition Article for LGBT Health in her second debate. She mentions “suicidal ideation rates as high as 64% and suicide attempt rates ranging from 16% to 37% with most attributing their ideation or attempts to their gender identity issues” (NCLGBTH, 2). These percentages are definitely concerning, and are not to be taken lightly. However in my opinion, the suicide rates mentioned do not solely reflect the fact that insurance doesn’t guarantee them surgeries and hormone treatments, but rather the stigmas they face, personal concerns, and society’s refusal to accept transgendered individuals as people as a whole. This refusal to accept transgender and transsexuals by society is echoed by another troubling statistic: “on average, one transperson [dies] from hate crimes every month” (Stryker, 148). And while I still feel troubled denying someone the right to have a surgical procedure they feel is necessary to align themselves with their understanding of gender, I have even more trouble with legitimizing the stigma that labels them as mentally disabled.

Many commenters raised questions of what forms of action I would recommend along with my argument. Meghan specifically asks “how, then can coverage for transgender procedures happen? Is it through the health care system but with different definitions? Or is there a separate entity that should be made to provide funds to cover these procedures?” First, I would encourage all of you to think about what you would recommend, too (I do not have all the answers). However, I will set forth a few propositions (bear in mind that I am no expert):

            >>  Change the DSM’s definition of Gender Identity Disorder. An organization called GID Reform Advocates calls for the DSM to include “diagnostic criteria that serve a clear therapeutic purpose, are appropriately inclusive, and define disorder on the basis of distress or impairment and not upon social nonconformity” (Winters, 2).  Health Insurance and health care providers utilize the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to direct their work, therefore changing its criteria would potentially lessen the discriminatory nature of GID. However, I would still be cautious with this action, because as Ashley points out in her comment, “the word “disease” is powerful. It is by definition harmful and abnormal.” Identifying transgendered and transsexual individuals as afflicted with disease has strong and negative connotations within society.  

            >> Remove GID from the DSM altogether, just as homosexuality was removed in 1973.

            >>  Develop other organizations. As the National Coalition for LGBT Health reports, “ a few urban, community-based health care organizations have developed their own local Trans Health protocols that do not require a prior GID diagnosis” (NCLGBTH, 3).

            >>  Expand the overall definitions of depression-like illness to include transgendered or transsexual people who are feeling “unfit” in their own skin. Treat them accordingly as people, who happen to choose not to conform to a stereotypical gender identity.

Ashley asks a revealing question in her comment: “is it fair to make them wait if they could gain access to insurance coverage under the umbrella of ‘disease treatment?” The answer to this question is a catch-22. As Stryker writes, “some people resent having their sense of gender labeled as a sickness, while others take great comfort from believing they have a condition that can be cured with proper treatment” (Stryker, 13). No matter what position you take on this debate, not everyone is going to be happy. It touches on a theme we discuss in class: being willing to face the consequences of the decisions you make. As Jaime writes, “treating Gender Identity Disorder as a “condition” or “disease” [is inevitable] in order [for them to gain access to] needed medical care.” I argue that this is not going to solve the issue at large, and therefore should not be required of health insurance companies.  

Jaime also brings up the incrementalist approach, stating that “the best way…is for change to take place incrementally; I am not necessarily saying that I think it is okay for us to continue to marginalize transgender individuals and deny them equal medical coverage, but I do think that the best approach to changing society’s view as a whole is by taking baby steps.” Considering the erosion metaphor brought up in class, the incrementalist approach is extremely time consuming. By supporting the incrementalist approach you are essentially patting the metaphorical rock on transgendered and transseuxals’ heads and saying “you can have the surgery, but you’re still diseased and mentally ill in our books.”

Meghan stated, “I do see some flaws in Rachel’s argument, though. I feel as if she did not tackle the question head on, rather she created a new argument in itself.” However, in my opinion, if a new argument can be made it’s not that the problem isn’t being tackled head on; it is showing that the original argument is missing something.

Just as the Transgender Law Center advocates, I am all for urging health insurance companies to stop discriminating against transgendered people or all people in general, but I am arguing they should not discriminate by mischaracterizing people as mentally disabled.  Discrimination, as we have discussed in class, is being selective based off of irrelevant facts or characteristics.  Being stigmatized as “diseased” in my opinion goes even farther than irrelevant categorization and is offensive at deeper, more fundamental levels.  Perhaps a new definition of “effective treatment” of transgendered and transsexual people would be: not only medically necessary “sexual reassignment surgery, hormone therapy, and real-life experience” but socially necessary actions that aim to remove the stigmatization of those who are choosing to challenge societal accepted gender roles (TAW, 2).  However in order to act accordingly, we must for the time being refrain from requiring insurance companies to broaden their discriminatory and “diseased” ways.


Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association. The Standards of Care for Gender Identity Disorders (5th Version).

Stryker, Susan. “An Introduction to Transgender Terms and Concepts” and “The Current Wave”

TAW: Transgender At Work. “Transgender Health Benefits.”

TLC: Transgender Law Center. “Recommendations for Transgender Health Care”

NCLGBTH: National Coalition for LGBT Health. “An Overview of U.S. Trans Health Priorities.”

Winters, Kelley. “GID Reform Advocates.”