Dr. Kimberly Walters

Dr. Kimberly Walters

Associate Professor of International Studies

On sabbatical in Fall 2023

Office – Liberal Arts 3 – 100C

Kim with CMM at World AIDS Day 2013I research sexuality and gender in contemporary South India. I am particularly interested in competing modes of transnational humanitarianism as they interact with marginalized sexualities.

My training is as a psychological anthropologist, and I received my doctorate in 2015 at the University of Chicago from the Department of Comparative Human Development. My research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Chicago Center for HIV Elimination, the Committee on Southern Asian Studies, and the University of Chicago, Delhi Center.

My research appears in the journals SignsAnthropological QuarterlyEconomic & Political Weekly, and AIDS Care. I also contribute to the online journal, openDemocracy.At present, I am working on a monograph entitled Rescued from Rights: Sex Work, Sex Trafficking, and the Humanitarian State in India. The book traces the recent shift between modes of humanitarian intervention in the lives of women who sell sex in India. In the wake of the HIV pandemic, Indian sex workers were the center of intensive development programs to empower them with rights as a strategy to slow the spread of the virus in the region. The empowerment approach drew on feminist thought arguing that selling sex is labor and should not be stigmatized. In the last decade, HIV prevention programs in India have given way to humanitarians taking an opposite approach to the question of paid sex—anti-trafficking and anti-slavery abolitionists—who often argue that the sale of sex is inherently oppressive. The rapid rise in global funding for rescue work in South Asia has led to an industry of agencies that “charitably” incarcerate sex workers against their will in the name of rescuing them.

My sex worker interlocutors, for their part, fought being rescued from “modern slavery” and admonished to take up a life of economic precarity outside commercial sex. Yet, they nevertheless sometimes collaborated with anti-traffickers in portraying themselves as victims of trafficking for donors and the media. Rescued from Rights argues for the centrality of moral ambivalence in understanding Indian sex workers’ simultaneous resistance to and embrace of both HIV prevention and anti-trafficking transnational as modes of humanitarianism.