Kingston, RI

In her March 1 “Subject to Debate” column, “Kristof to the Rescue?,” Katha Pollitt briefly mentions my work against the global sex trade, but in a way that leaves a false impression of the scholarship and advocacy I do. Pollitt writes that I oppose the distribution of condoms in brothels. This is absolutely false. My research has documented that AIDS prevention programs have a policy of overlooking slavery when they distribute condoms. I have criticized the priority of distributing condoms over freeing women and children. I advocate for policies that require NGO workers to report slavery when they encounter it and for laws that penalize pimps, traffickers and the men who go to brothels.

Pollitt lists conservative publications in which my articles have appeared–presumably to smear me by association. But she neglects to mention that I also have published in such feminist venues as Women’s eNews, Women’s Freedom Network Newsletter, Rain and Thunder: A Radical Feminist Journal, Feminista, Hastings Women’s Law Journal and Violence Against Women, to name a few recent ones. My goal is to have the greatest political impact by reaching the widest possible audience with information about the global exploitation of women in prostitution and to galvanize a response to end this form of slavery.



I went to see The Vagina Monologues here recently. Because of its controversial nature, the play was not publicized and ran only three nights. It was free, and donations went to a shelter for battered women–the first ever in the Middle East. We went on opening night but could not get in; the line was too long and the theater was full. Two nights later we returned, arriving an hour early, and stood in line with about thirty others, most of whom did not get in.

During the show, an actress, upon completing her monologue, spoke of female circumcision in Egypt. Several members of the audience stood up and left–but they did hear. They heard at least part of the message. Will it have an impact? Judging from the lines outside, the applause inside, the discomfort of many and the directness of the script, I say, yes. It will have an impact.

I wish Nicholas Kristof had been there. The cast of American, Asian and Egyptian young women had guts. V-Day caused many to think, laugh, cry and want to take action. Feminism is reaching the Middle East. It must do so through invitation and donation. It must do so despite anger and fear. Everyone assumed the play would be shut down by the government. It wasn’t. It was a victory for women across the world.


High Point, NC

While living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (population 44,000), I had the pleasure of working for two international reproductive health organizations: Ipas and IntraHealth International. Both focus on helping women in low-resource areas of the world, and both do so with feminist sensibilities and modest funding. Right down the highway, Family Health International in Research Triangle Park does much the same work.

I wonder–if two relatively small cities in conservative North Carolina alone offer multiple global organizations focused on reproductive health, how is it that Nicholas Kristof claims he can’t find even one in his own New York backyard?



New York City

Donna Hughes has written many pieces alleging that NGOs who push condom distribution in brothels and that teach prostitutes to “negotiate” condom use with johns are cooperating in a system of slavery. In “Humanitarian Sexploitation: The world’s sex slaves need liberation not condoms” (The Weekly Standard, February 24, 2003) she portrays health workers who do condom education and distribution as working hand in glove with pimps and criminal gangs and rather overlooks the raging epidemic that makes groups like Médecins Sans Frontières so desperate about condom use. It should also be noted that Hughes’s position is that virtually all prostitution is coerced by pimps and traffickers. I don’t think that is true.

I completely agree with Hughes that coerced prostitution is a terrible crime and that girls and women imprisoned in brothels or controlled by pimps need liberation–but unfortunately, this being the real world, they need condoms too. Condom use in brothels has, after all, been key to reducing Thailand’s HIV infection rate, saving the lives of countless women, both prostitutes and wives of johns. Although Hughes says she does not oppose condom distribution, the thrust of her work is to belittle it. That she puts these views forward in magazines that have their own anti-condom and anti-sex-ed agendas is unfortunate.



Duluth, Minn.

Thanks for David Cole’s explication of federal harassment at Drake University, “Spying on the Guild” [March 1]. On the heels of that episode, we read of Army agents trolling the halls at the University of Texas law school “looking for a roster of attendees at a recent conference on Islamic law and sexism” (Houston Chronicle). The agents did not obtain the attendance roster they sought. One questions the intelligence of agents who attempt baseless intimidation of law students, of all people, who are better armed than most to resist such tactics.



South Haven, Mich.

I am furious. I knew when the neocons stole the Florida election, things would go sour, and, yes, I marched three times against this cabal. But little did my husband and I know then that the election would effectively take his son, my stepson, over to Iraq. I have followed this barbaric slaughter from the beginning. I watch it with new eyes now. I wonder every time an explosion occurs or a soldier is killed, Is that my loved one?

His name is Michael. He’s 21. He’s an Army reservist. No, he didn’t join the reserves to go halfway around the world to be part of the occupation of another country for a bunch of neocons who have been planning this for years. He went into the reserves for training so he could be a police officer someday. (You see, they think like that at 21. They think that’s a good idea, no matter what you tell them.) He was a weekend warrior, a kid who lacked worldly experience and hoped for a college education.

A beautiful young man is somewhere in Iraq right now, sent over with scoliosis (the Army conveniently lost his X-rays) for no damn reason except to prop up short-term profits and giveaways to US corporations. We don’t know if we will ever see him again. What we do know is that he just walked into a civil war that is erupting daily into unadulterated hell on earth. We know he may come home in a box, or maimed for life, or psychologically damaged beyond comprehension.

You cannot imagine the anger we feel as we watch the laughing, tittering talking heads on corporate TV run puff pieces as news and ignore the horrors of wondering where a child is in Iraq: Will he come home? Is he OK? What’s it like for him to endure 120-degree heat? Is he afraid? Will someone be with him if he dies or is wounded? Will someone hold his hand and tell him we love him?

That child is ours. He does not belong to the neocons. They don’t care who these kids are. They demand warm bodies to send into this black hole they created. I will spend every breath of my life working to get that lowlife fratboy dragged out of the White House in chains. This is too much to bear.



Cambridge, Mass.

Jennifer Baumgardner’s “We’re Not Sorry, Charlie” [Feb. 2] is leading the pro-choice movement in the wrong direction. If we are going to keep abortions safe and legal, we have to appeal to the voters in the middle.

Choice is not like the civil rights movement. There is no equivalent of “I’m black and I’m proud,” no place for in-your-face T-shirts saying “I had an Abortion.” There is no high ground to take; we just want to keep the government out of our bedrooms and our medical decisions. Pro-choice has to find common ground to appeal to the people in the center. That should start with the goal of fewer abortions. How to avoid a pregnancy should be the top priority of the pro-choice education package, which should give young people an escalating list of choices–no sex, sex using condoms, sex using birth control like the Pill, the morning-after pill, RU-486 and, last, a surgical procedure.

When people stop arguing and sit down to compromise, they usually find that they agree on more points than they disagree on. Anyone who supports the right to choice in cases of rape, incest or when the woman’s health is in danger should be on our side. Terminating a pregnancy is a difficult, emotional experience for many. Women who are facing abortion should have access to support groups of others who have been through it. There is no shame in having an abortion, but you’re not going to keep the majority support for Roe v. Wade with “I had an abortion” T-shirts or a celebratory “I’m Not Sorry Day.”



New York City

I don’t know how to respond to a person who argues that there is no shame in having an abortion and yet advocates no space to openly say one has had one without the caveat “of course, it was a terrible choice to have to make!” The hundreds of women who have reached out to me with their stories since my piece was published lead me to believe that women–at least some women–crave a space where they can be open about their procedures. The campaign isn’t calling for people to have unambiguously triumphant responses to their abortions, as I clearly stated. It is to encourage them to tell the truth about their abortions–good, bad and everything in between. The political point is to make visible the millions of women who have had abortions and thus the need for safe and legal procedures. As for the advice about where the movement needs to go, pro-choice activism has always been concerned with reducing the need for abortions.