Hamilton Reece Thompson ’18 is undertaking research this summer to uncover and illuminate the links in ideology that connect human trafficking with societal trends such as the medicalization of the human body, and the objectification and commoditization of women via advertising. Thompson is one of this year’s four Kirkland summer associates, students selected by the Kirkland Endowment Advisory Committee to receive stipends of $4000 each for 10 weeks of full time research that “support(s) the needs and interests of women at Hamilton.” He’s working on his research with Associate Professor of Women’s Studies Vivyan Adair.
Thompson’s interest in women’s issues began when he was in high school. “I debated very competitively in high school, and I found myself focusing pretty heavily on women’s issues, particularly sex trafficking,” he said. “I’ve had a passion for understanding these topics for the past two years now.” This summer’s research aligns well with Thompson’s broader academic interests of women’s studies, anthropology and sociology: all major sources of criticism and literature on the issues of trafficking, medicalization and the commodification of the human body.
Medicalization -- within the scope of Thompson’s research -- refers to the process by which certain issues are pathologized, while ignoring the social forces that might underlie them. Thompson uses the example of female sexual dysfunction, saying “it’s something that doctors have latched onto, prescribing pills and surgeries for, but this approach ignores social norms and imbalances. Dissatisfaction with one’s sex life shouldn’t in all cases be viewed as a dysfunction, that removes the individual.”
Although the 10-week project period for Kirkland summer associates has hardly begun, Thompson has already begun making unexpected discoveries through his research and readings. “I think that the most shocking thing that I’ve come across so far is that over 200,000 American people each year go abroad to find surrogate mothers in cheaper markets, Romania and India in particular,” Thompson explained. “It’s another form of trafficking. Trafficking doesn’t necessarily refer just to moving a person across state lines, although that does happen to children born to surrogates, but it very much so also refers to the exploitation and commodification of the body,” he noted.
To Thompson, awareness is the key to changing attitudes in our society concerning the issue of trafficking. “I wish that people were more aware of the issues surrounding trafficking, especially the fact that sex trafficking still exists. It’s very easy for people to look at survivors of trafficking and say that they aren’t a victim, that they chose their lifestyle. It’s about creating an understanding that this is a very real violation of somebody’s rights, and I wish people knew all the ways that things in their everyday lives interact with and contribute to these problems.
Thomspon is a graduate of Vanguard College Preparatory School in Waco, Tx.