Hughes has written extensively on the prevalence of these issues of exploitation of women within Islamic Fundamentalism 
While a student, she became increasingly interested in feminism and started volunteering at a women's shelter. 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.
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 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.
Template:Ambox/small Hughes has published research on the trafficking of women for prostitution and sexual slavery in several countries, including Russia, Ukraine, North Korea, China, and the United States. Additionally, she has published research and analysis on the role of the Internet in facilitating prostitution and trafficking 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.
Activism and views
She is a strong opponent of prostitution and one of the leading advocates of the "abolitionist" view of prostitution. She is seen by many as a key figure linking the feminist and social conservative movements against prostitution and the sex industry. Hughes has received criticism from sex workers' rights activists for her view that laws against prostitution are necessary to combat human trafficking and sexual slavery, and what many see as personal attacks against other academics and activists who support decriminalization of prostitution.
Prostitution in Rhode Island controversy
From 2006-2009, Hughes was a leading figure in the campaign to end the decriminalized status of indoor prostitution in Rhode Island, and was 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.
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. This version of the bill was signed into law in November 2009. 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.
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"), also citing remarks made about Andelloux in an earlier Providence Journal editorial by Hughes, as well as in a bulletin on the Citizens Against Trafficking website. A 6-month zoning battle followed with the city of Pawtucket; the CSPH was eventually allowed to open in early 2010.
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.
- Donna Hughes (faculty page), University of Rhode Island.
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- Chesler, Phyllis; Donna M Hughes. (2004-02-22). "Feminism in The 21st Century". Washington Post. http://www.uri.edu/artsci/wms/hughes/21st_century.pdf.
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- M Andelloux. Professor's name calling of sex workers. Providence Journal, June 25, 2009.
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- Brooks, Margaret; Donna M. Hughes. (2009-08-14). "International Sex Radicals Campaign to Keep Prostitution Decriminalized in Rhode Island: Part 1". Citizens Against Trafficking. http://www.citizensagainsttrafficking.org/uploads/Sex_Radicals_Target_Rhode_Island.pdf. Retrieved 2009-08-25.
- Lawrence, Matthew. (2009-08-15). "Sex Radicals’ International Conspiracy Afoot In RI, Apparently". Providence Daily Dose. http://providencedailydose.com/2009/08/15/sex-radicals-international-conspiracy-afoot-in-ri-apparently/. Retrieved 2009-08-19.
- Arsenault, Mark (2006-11-25). "Cicilline to co-host forum on human trafficking, parlors". Providence Journal. http://www.projo.com/news/politics/content/rihuman25_11-25-06_QA30TMK.338505d.html. Retrieved 2010-08-16.
- Arditi, Lynn (2009-09-17). "Sex workers testify at Senate hearing on prostitution bill". Providence Journal. http://www.projo.com/news/content/PROSTITUTION_BILL_06-19-09_UIEPAKU_v59.3cd847f.html. Retrieved 2010-08-16.
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- Arditi, Lynn (2009-10-03). "Bill Signing Finally Outlaws Prostitution". Providence Journal. http://newsblog.projo.com/2009/11/governor-carcieri-signed-into.html. Retrieved 2009-10-03.
- P. Jabour M McCaffery Fixing ‘sex-worker industry’: R.I. Senate closes prostitution loophole
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- Hauk, Alexis (2009-09-30). "Hot controversy over sexuality center in Pawtucket". Providence Phoenix. http://thephoenix.com/Providence/News/90630-Hot-controversy-over-sexuality-center-in-Pawtucket/. Retrieved 2010-07-11.
- Lawrence, Matthew (2009-10-02). "Donna Hughes On Our Nation’s Autoerotic Asphyxiation Epidemic". Providence Daily Dose. http://providencedailydose.com/2009/10/09/donna-hughes-on-our-nations-autoerotic-asphyxiation-epidemic/. Retrieved 2010-07-11.
- Littlefield, Amy (2009-12-03). "Female Sexologist Awaits Pawtucket Zoning Board". Womens eNews. http://womensenews.org/story/health/091202/female-sexologist-awaits-pawtucket-zoning-board. Retrieved 2010-07-11.
- Minkin, Tracey (2010-04). "The SexEd Warrior-Queen". Rhode Island Monthly. http://www.rimonthly.com/Rhode-Island-Monthly/April-2010/The-SexEd-Warrior-Queen/.
- Brooks, Margaret; Donna M. Hughes (2009-09-23). "Sex Radicals’ Vision for Rhode Island". Citizens Against Trafficking. http://www.citizensagainsttrafficking.org/uploads/Sex_Radicals_Vision_for_Rhode_Island.pdf.
- Achorn, Edward (2010-03-23). "Gang-rape threat isn’t ‘free speech’". Providence Journal. http://www.projo.com/opinion/columnists/content/CL_achorn23_03-23-10_9KHNJGH_v12.4059bc7.html. Retrieved 2010-07-12.