New York Times journalist lectures on child sex slavery

By on October 17, 2006

The New York Times Op-Ed columnist Nicholas Kristof spoke about his experience of reporting on the rampant human sex trafficking industry in Asia in a lecture attended by hundreds of students in Alumni Hall on Oct. 10.

“We should think of human rights abuses as much more than people being imprisoned for expressing their political views,” he said to begin the lecture, which was sponsored by the Quinnipiac University Department of Nursing and was the culmination of the “Abolish Modern-Day Slavery” conference.

Kristof reported on issues involving human rights while working as a reporter in Asia for The New York Times from the late 1980s to the late 1990s. There, he often had mixed feelings about writing about the plights of countless numbers of teenage girls who had been forced into prostitution.

“This was the kind of thing I could scarcely believe was happening in the world,” he said. “When I walked out of the interview room, I became deeply disturbed. Here I was with this front-page story and [the teenage girls] were going to live confined to the brothels until they died of AIDS.”

As a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, Kristof would regularly feel torn between his desire to help these girls escape and his commitment as a journalist to avoid becoming personally involved in the lives of the people he wrote about. Deciding that he should act on his human convictions, he once paid a brothel owner in Laos hundreds of dollars in order to rescue two young girls and return them to their families.

One of the girls was joyously welcomed back by her family and eventually became a hairdresser. The other girl, who was addicted to methamphetamine supplied to her by the brothel owner, was shunned by her family and voluntarily returned to the same brothel, Kristof said.

“It was heart-breaking to see her go back to the brothel after we had rescued her,” he said.

One factor contributing to the widespread presence of human sex trafficking is that many Asian governments are either indifferent to it or are covertly supportive of it, Kristof said. In numerous instances, the local police departments in remote Asian towns are so corrupt that they accept bribes from brothel owners as an illicit means to prevent the police officers from arresting and prosecuting the brothel owners, he said.

“This issue of child sex slavery is much more complicated than merely being a function of poverty,” Kristof said. “This issue of corruption is intrinsic in dealing with the problem.”

The number of cases of human sex trafficking has grown exponentially with the replacement of communist governments with free-market economies in nations of Eastern Europe and parts of Asia since the late 1980s, he said. These abuses of human rights could be lessened if the economic incentive regarding forced prostitution were decreased, Kristof said.

Another underlying factor contributing to the widespread child sex trafficking in many Asian nations is a deep-seated collective mindset in which women and girls are inferior to men and boys.

“In the West, everyone agrees that no one should be locking up 14-year-old girls and putting them in brothels,” he said. But this idea is by no means universally accepted in some Asian nations, he said.

Kristof told students that they have tremendous power in helping to reduce such human rights abuses by contacting their elected officials to voice their condemnations of the practice.

“As American citizens, we possess the ability to embarrass foreign governments into getting serious about cracking down on the people who abuse children,” Kristof said. “But we must work together.”

He implored students to become involved in organizations such as Equality Now, the International Justice Mission and ECPAT International, which work to bring an end to human rights abuses.

Kathleen McCourt, the university senior vice president of academic affairs, lauded Kristof as a global civil rights champion whose work has spurred an untold number of people to work on behalf of the plight of persecuted people.

“Nicholas Kristof provides us with information about suffering in other parts of the world, information that is the necessary first step to taking action to address the human rights violations people of conscience must no longer ignore,” McCourt said.


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