Trumbull researches prostitution

by Craig Elbert | 5/25/01 5:00am

When students hear that Junior Charlie Trumbull flew to Cuba to study prostitution, they often ask him one question: So, did you do any first-hand research?

"A lot of people had a misconception of what I was trying to do," Trumbull said.

In reality, Trumbull's trip, sponsored by the Dickey Center for International Understanding, was an in-depth research project on the social, political, and economic ramifications of the rampant prostitution in post Cold War Cuba, the junior pointed out.

Trumbull spent a month in Cuba this winter interviewing prostitutes, politicians and law-enforcement officials, among others, in an attempt to understand the conditions that allow prostitution to thrive in Cuba. He also examined president Fidel Castro's role in combating and hiding the problem.

This term, Trumbull returned to campus and presented the results of his efforts in a presentation at the Rockefeller Center titled "Prostitution and Sex Tourism in Cuba: An Old Business in a New Society." In August, Trumbull will fly down to Miami for a similar presentation to the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy.The January trip was Trumbull's third excursion to the country, an extension of his longstanding interest in the small island nation.

Trumbull first explored the streets of Cuba on a leisurely trip with a friend at the age of 16. Then, following his freshmen year, he obtained a summer research grant from the Rockefeller Center to study the economic reforms in Cuba, a project that resulted in the publication of Trumbull's paper in the journal "Cuba in Transition."

While studying Cuba's economy on this second trip, Trumbull became intrigued with the prevalence of prostitution.

Unlike the United States, where prostitution is often seen as a social problem, the extreme visibility of prostitution in Cuba is a result of the country's foundering economy.

"Prostitution is symptomatic of the economy Cuba is forced into with the fall of the Soviet Union," Trumbull explained.

According to Trumbull, many of Cuba's prostitutes are well-educated women who, due to Cuba's economy, must use the money earned by prostitution to continue their careers.

"Prostitutes are some of the richest people because of the value of the dollar and the tourist trade," Trumbull said.

Despite the high visibility of this sex tourism, Trumbull was still forced to mask his topic when conducting many of his interviews.

"It's kind of touchy, because prostitution is a sensitive subject," said Trumbull.

To obtain his information, Trumbull employed a variety of tactics, from acting interested in the prostitutes to playing the role of the befuddled tourist.

This summer, Trumbull will continue to pursue his interest in Cuba, though he will be living in Washington DC. With funding from the Rockefeller Center, he will be work for the Center for International Policy, where he will be a policy aid.

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