Nicholas Kristof, a NY Times reporter, shares the terrifying experiences he witnessed in a war against sex-trafficking over a period of 18 years while researching and traveling across different countries. He says he’s still shaken by what he discovered within the dark alleys of these brothels.
Nicholas 1st reported on sex-trafficking in Cambodia in 1996 where he saw a modern form of slavery in the form of child prostitution. Young girls (ages 10 – 15) were sold to brothels by their own parents!
Two child prostitutes in front of brothels near Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in 1996. The pimps didn’t allow photographs, so he shot from the hip.
Young girls were sold like mere items, he says, and you even got slips and receipts of the payment you made for her virginity!
Sex slavery was worst and highest in the Asian countries. Innocent girls, dressed up like older women in dark shades of cosmetics, was a heart breaking sight for him.
Brothels like this, in Svay Pak, Cambodia, locked up young girls, and the big difference from 19th century slavery seemed that the girls would be dead of AIDS by their 20s. They were forced to engage with up to 10 customers a night, because they were considered the brothel owner’s property. If they tried to escape, they were locked up in separate rooms , starved and beaten up for days. The scars from the beatings could still be seen on their bodies, says Nicholas
“The day I purchased the freedom of two Cambodian girls for $353”
“In Poipet, Cambodia, I purchased this teenage girl, Srey Mom, in the white blouse, for just over $200 and got a written receipt from her brothel-owner, as if I were taking title to a car” says Nicholas. He described the girls having looks of horror on their faces. Innocence was long lost and one could only notice despair and suffering in the eyes of these girls.
The clients who visited these brothels were mostly Japanese, Australian, Americans and other Asian men. Nicholas reports in his findings that men mostly preferred young girls because they were less likely to have sex related diseases or STD’s. The clients described them as fresh and virginity was sold up to an amount of $500. The prices decreased as the girl became more “used up”! A fresh arrival, sells for $10, but in another week she will drop to $5 and then eventually to $2 or $3. Such is the degree of obscenity that prevails in these low-lying brothels.
This Pakistani woman escaped from a brothel after six years of torture. As the courts deliberated sending her back to the brothel owner,Nicholas tried to hunt him down.
“When I met Aisha Parveen in 2006, she was an impoverished 20-year-old from the countryside awaiting a Pakistani court’s decision to return her to a brothel owner who tortured her for six years.” says Nicholas She was described as ‘a girl without importance’ She was 14 years old when she was struck on the back of her head while on her way to school. She awoke to find herself imprisoned in a brothel hundreds of miles away.
A person of unbelievable strength, Ms. Parveen fought back and refused to sleep with customers. So, she says, the brothel owner — Mian Sher, the violent sadist who had kidnapped her — beat and sexually tortured her, and regularly drugged her so that she would fall unconscious and customers could do with her as they liked. This went on for six years, during which she says she was beaten every day. The girls in the brothel were forced to sleep naked at night, so that they would be too embarrassed to try to escape. Ms. Parveen says she believes that two of them, Malo Jan and Suwa Tai, were killed after they repeatedly refused to sleep with customers. In any case condoms were never available, so all the girls may eventually die of AIDS
In India, a capital of sex trafficking, Meena was kidnapped, raped daily, and gave birth to a daughter into sex slavery. When Meena escaped, she tried to set her daughter free.
Meena was kidnapped from her village in north India by a trafficker and eventually locked up in a 13-girl brothel in the town of Katihar. When she was perhaps 11 or 12 — she remembers only that it was well before she had begun to menstruate — the slaver locked her in a room with a white-haired customer who had bought her virginity. She cried and fought, so the mother and two sons who owned the brothel taught Meena a lesson.
“They beat me mercilessly, with a belt, sticks and iron rods,” Meena recalled. Still, Meena resisted customers, despite fresh beatings and threats to cut her in pieces. Finally, the brothel owners forced her to drink alcohol until she was drunk. When she passed out, they gave her to a customer. When she woke up, Meena finally accepted her fate as a prostitute. “I thought, ‘Now I am ruined,’ ” she remembered, “so I gave in.” During the course, she gave birth to a daughter Naina and one year later to a son Vivek. Both were snatched away from her. The son was forced to do the brothels laundry and the daughter was being prepared for prostitution.
Meena found hope in an organization named Apne Aap that helped her out but she is still threatened by the brothel. The culprits roam the streets unscathed.
Yumi Li, a college educated woman who was enslaved just a short walk from Nicholas’ office in Manhattan, taught him that the abuses occur in our backyard.
“Americans tend to associate “modern slavery” with illiterate girls in India or Cambodia.” says Nicholas. Yet he came across a well educated girl name Yumi, of a South Korean origin, who was tricked into smuggling and prostitution by faking a job opening that would pay her $5000. She came to America on a fake passport and was later seized by the clever pimps and forced to sleep with men. When she resisted, she was beaten up by using fists, avoiding her face because that would decrease her commercial value. They assaulted and harassed her and even made an offensive movie with her in compromising poses.
She was warned that the video would be sent to her relatives back in South Korea if she resisted, so she finally gave up and became one of the 24 prostitutes working off an office on the 36th street in Midtown Manhattan. Yumi was even caught by the police many times but refused to commit that she was trafficked and forced into sex slavery. But one day, when her closest friend was handcuffed by a customer and abused brutally she vowed to give in the identities of the pimps. The pimps changed their office location and address to save being caught. They remain free till date.
Nicholas’ investigation of the leading online sex trafficking forum led him to the most unlikely place: Wall Street investment banks.
The biggest forum for sex trafficking of under-age girls in the United States appears to be a Web site called Backpage.com. This emporium for girls and women — some under age or forced into prostitution — is in turn owned by an opaque private company called Village Voice Media.
The owners turn out to include private equity financiers, including Goldman Sachs with a 16 percent stake. Goldman Sachs was mortified when Nicholas began inquiring about its stake in America’s leading Web site for prostitution ads. It began working frantically to unload its shares, and in just a week, it called to say that it had just signed an agreement to sell its stake to management.
There’s no doubt that many escort ads on Backpage are placed by consenting adults. But it’s equally clear that Backpage plays a major role in the trafficking of minors or women who are coerced. In one recent case in New York City, prosecutors say that a 15-year-old girl was drugged, tied up, raped and sold to johns through Backpage and other sites. Backpage has 70 percent of the market for prostitution ads, according to AIM Group, a trade organization.
From the Streets to the ‘World’s Best Mom’
Shelia Faye Simpkins used to live and work as a prostitute in this building in Nashville. Her story encapsulates the remarkable human capacity for resilience. When men paid Shelia for sex, they presumably thought she was just a happy hooker engaging in a transaction among consenting adults.
It was actually more complicated than that, as it usually is.
Simpkins says that her teenage mom, an alcoholic and drug addict, taught her at age 6 how to perform oral sex on men. “Like a lollipop,” she remembers her mom explaining. Simpkins finally ran away from home at 14 and into the arms of a pimp. “I thought he was my boyfriend,” Simpkins remembers. “I didn’t realize I was being pimped.” When her pimp was shot dead, she was recruited by another, Kenny, who ran a “stable” of four women and assigned each of them a daily quota of $1,000. Anyone who didn’t earn that risked a beating.
Simpkins periodically ran away from Kenny, but each time he found her — and beat her up with sticks or iron rods. On average, she figures that Kenny beat her up about once a week, and she still carries the scars. Simpkins says that she would be dead by now if it weren’t for a remarkable initiative by the Rev. Becca Stevens, the Episcopal priest at Vanderbilt University here, to help women escape trafficking and prostitution.
She has married and has two children, ages 4 and 6. The older one has just been accepted in a gifted program at school, and Simpkins couldn’t be more proud. “I haven’t done a lot of things right in my life, but this is one thing I’m going to do right,” she said. “I’m going to be the world’s best mom.”
Nicholas hopes that his findings and investigations would bring, if not much, but some change in the war against prostitution and trafficking. He’s traveled a long way and is still heart broken from the stories he encountered all around the world.