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The author at the Resource Centre for Women, Marta, where she worked on anti-trafficking initiatives as part of a Fulbright Research Fellowship.
I first crossed this street in , while studying abroad at the University of Latvia through my undergraduate institution, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. One evening, while returning home with friends, the women on Caka Street began yelling things to me, but not knowing Latvian or Russian at the time, I could not understand what they were shouting. Arriving home I asked my host mother about the women and she told me, very matter-of-factly, that they were prostitutes and it was their choice to stand on the street and sell themselves.
This thinking symbolizes the Latvian mindset toward prostitution for me and it was not until many years later that I learned firsthand that this was not the whole story, that many of these women did not have the luxury of choice. My experience in Latvia taught me that without language and cultural knowledge I stood no chance of ever approaching the full story or understanding these women.
Returning home, I changed my major and began taking every class available concerning Russia and Eastern Europe. I then continued my education at the University of Washington, the only university in the United States that offers classes in Baltic Studies and Latvian language.
This education gave me the tools to live and conduct research in Latvia. In , I was fortunate to be awarded a Fulbright Research Fellowship, to research the issues that caught my attention eight years earlier. I examined the political implications of the exploitation of women in Latvia by focusing on sex tourism and human trafficking.