It was spectacularly bad timing. We were trying to wrap up the end of the first month of the Silence is the Enemy campaign, spearheaded by Isis the Scientist and Sheril Kirshenbaum, to focus on raising awareness of sexual violence against women. Then we managed to send what amounts to a mixed message.
In recent days some of you may have noticed an ad for Russian Mail-Order bride services on the righthand sidebar around and about on ScienceBlogs. I certainly noticed it. My mental process went a little something like this:
the offending adHuh. That's funny. I don't know all that much specifically but isn't that whole mail-order bride industry kind of exploitative of women? Aren't the "brides" often desperate women from economically depressed areas of the world looking to come to the developed world for a better life? Doesn't it result in some nasty exploitation by the "husband" in some cases? FFS, haven't I heard about some of these things being nothing more or less than the less-than-willing trafficking of human beings. In a word: slavery?
As I said, I really don't know jack squat about this whole industry apart from the occasional media reports over the past few decades. So I went googling. I thought you might be interested in The Protection Project and in particular a 2004 Testimony given to the Senate Subcommittee on Foreign Relations.
The practice of pre-arranged marriages, or mail-order brides, conducted through a third party, is not new to the United States, and can be documented as far back as the Revolutionary War. The practice was further developed during the California Gold Rush and the pioneer move west when pictures of available women were distributed to men in isolated regions.
So it is an old tradition. How big was it in the US in 2004?
The simplest Google search for "mail-order brides" yields a minimum of 500,000 web page entries with names such as "The Natasha Club", "Brides4U", "Plant-Love", "Goodwife", and "LoveMe". Out the first twenty entries on the Google search, only one entry deals with the possibility of abuse and negative outcomes of matches arranged on line. The majority of the entries are dedicated to Eastern European, Latina and Asian women profiled as mail-order brides looking for husbands. On an average Google page, firms offering Russian brides comprise about 30 percent of all advertisements.
The testimonial talks about the unregulated nature of the "industry", the directionality of under-developed world women being shipped to developed world male husbands and then goes on to cover Informational, Economic, Cultural and Legal vulnerability of the women. It then ends with a brief overview of some of the cases of exploitation including:
Physical Abuse, Threats of Deportation, Restriction of Movement and Murder: In the most famous mail order bride abuse case, Anastasia King from Kyrgyzstan married Ingle King, Jr., who strangled her to death in September 2000. It has been reported that in her diaries, Anastasia wrote that he she was sexually and physically assaulted by King, that he withheld her college tuition, restricted her freedom of movement, and threatened her with deportation and death.[*xvi]
Okay, back to business. I offer my apologies to those of you where were shocked and offended to see the Russian-Bride ads next to this blog. As most of you know, we are indeed an advertising-supported medium and that brings certain consequences. What you probably don't realize is two things. First, that ScienceBlogs does not sell each and every ad placement individually and review the content. In some cases a bulk purchase is made with an ad company that places the actual ad copy/imagery. The people in the ad-selling part of this operation do have rules and guidelines for what they do and do not want on Scienceblogs but, as you might imagine, things slip through now and again. The second thing you probably don't realize is that there is a robust tradition of the bloggers raising hue and cry over objectionable ads. In my time here, this has mostly been in the nature of woo-peddling on the medical/anti-denial type blogs or similar. Placement of ads that are more or less for things that the bloggers themselves rail about as harmful practices, products or whatnot. This has almost always resulted in positive action to remove the offending adverts, albeit perhaps not always immediately.
Well, as Grrl Scientist alluded to in her post, we probably should be a little less aggressive about our objections in the current financial climate for ad-based media. We may have to hold our noses a little bit. But there will be things that nevertheless go over a critical line, no matter what the financial climate. I think this Mail-Order Bride stuff qualifies.
I'll end with the plea to you, DearReader, that if you ever have a serious objection to the ad content at ScienceBlogs, let someone know. Email your favorite blogger. Screen capture if you can. Don't just assume that nobody cares about this stuff. We do.
*original source : http://www.digitas.harvard.edu/~perspy/issues/2002/nov/mae.html and I googled up this: http://www.seattlepi.com/local/59387_king22.shtml