Growing sex trade
Only democracy can free women from slavery
Donna M. Hughes
July 15, 2004
Last week, I participated in two events commemorating
the July 1999 student uprising in Iran. In Washington, D.C., on
July 7, the Committee in Support of Referendum in Iran sponsored
a panel discussion in the U.S. Senate, and in Toronto, Canada,
on July 8, the Canadian Committee for Democracy in Iran held an
outdoor rally. Attached is the text of my speech.
A measure of Islamic fundamentalists' success
in controlling society is the depth and totality with which they
suppress the freedom and rights of women.
Earlier this year, with the assistance of Iranian
democracy activists I gathered information about prostitution and
the trafficking of
women and girls out of Iran for sexual slavery.
It is impossible to know how many victims there
are, but all sources indicate an exponential growth in prostitution
trade is also international, as thousands of Iranian women
and girls have been sold into sexual slavery abroad.
This criminal activity is often conducted with the
knowledge and participation of the ruling mullahs. Government officials
are involved in trading and sexually abusing women and girls.
Many of the girls come from impoverished rural areas.
Drug addiction is epidemic throughout Iran, and some addicted parents
children to support their habits. High unemployment - 28
percent for youth 15-29 years of age and 43 percent for women 15-20
years of age - is a serious factor in driving restless youth to
accept risky offers for work.
The most popular destinations for victims of trafficking
from Iran are the Arab countries in the Persian Gulf. In local
in Iran, a number of cases have been documented.
Police have uncovered a number of prostitution and
slavery rings operating from Tehran that sent girls to France,
In the northeastern Iranian province of Khorasan,
local police report that girls are being sold to Pakistani men
The Pakistani men marry the girls, ranging in age from 12 to
20, and then sell them to brothels in Pakistan. In the southeastern
border province of Sistan Baluchestan, thousands of Iranian girls
reportedly have been sold to Afghani men. Their whereabouts are
One factor contributing to the increase in prostitution
and the sex slave trade is the number of teen girls who are running
from home. The girls are rebelling against fundamentalist imposed
restrictions on their freedom, domestic abuse, and parental drug
addictions. Unfortunately, in their flight to freedom, the girls
find more abuse and exploitation. Ninety percent of girls who
run away from home will end up in prostitution.
In cities, shelters have been set-up to provide
assistance for runaways. But there have been documented cases of
running these shelters using the girls in their prostitution
Some may think a sex slave trade and clerics acting
as pimps are contradictions in a country founded and ruled by religious
In fact, these are not such contradictions. First, exploitation
and repression are closely associated with each other and complement
each other. Both exist where women, individually or collectively,
are denied freedom and rights. Second, the Islamic fundamentalists
in Iran are not simply conservative Muslims. Since the 1979 revolution,
Iran has been a totalitarian terrorist state. Trafficking of
women and girls is just another profitable criminal activity of
Today, the two greatest threats to rights and well
being of women in the world are Islamic fundamentalism and the
growing sex trade.
The fundamentalists in Iran are the chief sponsors of first of
these threats, and leading practitioners of second.
Since I wrote an article about prostitution and
the trade in women and girls in Iran, a number of people have written
to me asking
what can be done to stop this trade and assist the victims.
The answer is that only freedom and democracy in
Iran can end slavery. Only the overthrow of the mullahs and the
defeat of their theocracy
will liberate women from a system based on contempt and hatred
for women. Only the installation of democracy based on rule of
law will rid Iran of the corruption and mafia-like control of
Iran. Only individual liberty and equality between men and women
guarantee freedom for women and girls. And only courts of justice
will punish the criminal perpetrators for their violence and
Of course, we are here today to commemorate the
pro-democracy student movement that has courageously demonstrated
for just those values
and principles. They have heroically stood up to the vicious
tyranny in Iran, and many have paid an enormous price for their
Many of those activists have been and are women.
Supporting the bold resistance of these women to
the mullahs is the only way to defeat the slave traders and the
voices and lives are essential for establishing a post-terrorist
democratic society. Their courage, compassion, and intellect
will be needed to help lead a country out of slavery, fear, and
of us with freedom of speech and freedom of association, which
are denied to activists in Iran, must use them to support
the freedom fighters in Iran. We must work together and lobby
our governmental representatives to take positions against the
Iranian regime and in support of democracy and freedom. We
must tell them that there are no moderate, reformist mullahs in
but there are millions of people who want to be free. See reply to this article "Sex
Donna M. Hughes is
Professor & Carlson Endowed Chair in Women's Studies at the University
of Rhode Island. Homepage
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