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Sex Trafficking Still An Issue Today

Heights Staff

Published: Thursday, April 19, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

Sex Trafficking

Daniel Lee / Heights Editor

Back in 2004, I ended up buying two girls,” Nicholas Kristof said. “One was Sre Net, who I paid $150 for. And Sre Mum, I paid just over $200 for her. The thing that shook me the most was that I got receipts in writing for buying the two girls from the brothels. When you get a receipt for buying a human being in the 21st century, it is really a disgrace on the time.”

A New York Times Op-Ed writer and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, Nicholas Kristof came to Boston College last Thursday to talk about his recent book, Half the Sky, which discusses human trafficking. Kristof, speaking to an overflowing lecture hall in McGuinn, was brought to BC by the Winston Center for Leadership and Ethics and the group Rallying Efforts Against Human Trafficking (R.E.A.C.T.), in part because of the University’s emphasis on social justice and activism.

Kristof discussed his motivation for writing Half the Sky, which covers topics such as sex trafficking and forced prostitution, contemporary slavery, gender-based violence, and rape as a weapon of war and method of justice. The book also details the multitude of ways in which women are oppressed and violated in the world.

He explained that he first sought out interviews with girls in brothels simply as a means of assuring himself a front-page story. But, he said, the girls would stay imbedded in his mind and, to a degree, haunt him. “I was exploiting them and moving on,” Kristof said.

“‘Half the Sky’ comes from a Chinese expression that women hold up half the sky,” Kristof said. “Just as in the 19th century the central moral challenge for the world was slavery, and in the 20th century the central moral challenge was totalitarianism, in this century the paramount moral challenge is the inequity that is the lot of so many women and girls around the world.”

Kristof’s focus on human trafficking started on a trip that he made 15 years ago. Reporting on prostitution, Kristof traveled all around Asia, and was stunned by the vast number of girls imprisoned and forced into prostitution. He described it as “slavery—but they were all going to die of AIDS by the time they were 20.”

While talking about sex slavery in Cambodia, Kristof described some of the brutalities committed by the brothel owners. When visiting one brothel, he encountered a girl whose eye had been gouged out for being uncooperative. He also recounted a story he heard about a neighboring brothel. He explained that two girls died when the brothel burnt down, as they were assessed to be a flight risk and were thus chained up.

“There is no silver bullet, but to educate girls and bring them into the formal labor force is the most effective [solution],” Kristof said. “We have leverage through our values. Hillary Clinton made a brief trip to Cambodia, during which she found time in her schedule to meet Lan Cross. That visit sent a powerful message through Cambodian society. Here we have the Secretary of State of the United States meeting with this girl who, in Cambodian terms, was absolutely nothing. If she had gone to the police station, the police would have raped her. It sent this message rippling through the Cambodian elites that maybe these girls do count.”

He also stressed the importance of America cleaning up domestic prostitution. He said that efforts work best here when the police target the pimps and the johns instead of the girls.     

“Going after the pimps is crucial, and the pimps are essentially business people,” Kristof said. “They can make a little more money, and it is a little safer to traffic girls than it is to traffic drugs.”

“Another thing is to go after johns more,” Kristof said. “Some cities have john schools. A lot of the johns have no notion that the girls are being coerced. After the johns are arrested, the johns are told [they] can spend 10 days in a lockup or [they] can attend a john school, in which girls who have been trafficked come and speak to them. It takes all the luster and exoticism out of what they’ve done.”

In responding to questions from the audience, Kristof recognized the close ties between rap culture and pimping as one of the negative influences in the United States. “Pimps have their photos taken with rap stars,” Kristof said. “Pimps are seen as heroes in some neighborhoods. I wish these rap stars would not lend their legitimacy to those pimps.”  n

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