When my friend Brittany Madni, co-president of Boston College R.E.A.C.T. (Rallying Efforts Against Contemporary Trafficking), let slip that Nicholas Kristof would be coming to speak, I couldn’t contain my excitement. Having written a previous article on BC R.E.A.C.T, I was elated that one of the foremost voices of this issue would be coming to the Heights.
Human trafficking, also referred to as "modern-day slavery" is shockingly prevalent, especially with regard to the fact that the issue receives little attention. Though exact numbers are difficult to calculate, many organizations estimate that there are currently 27 million people enslaved in the world today. To put this in perspective: there were approximately 11 million slaves traded during the 450 years of transatlantic slave trade. Thus it is much more of a problem today than ever before. Have you ever wondered how much it costs to purchase a living, breathing, human being? I hadn’t until now. The average cost of a person today is $90. I was horrified that a person’s freedom could be quantified, traded, owned, and exchanged. I came to the shocking realization that somewhere, some woman had been bought for less than some items in my closet. Considering myself a well-read and aware individual, I was floored that such an atrocious infringement on one’s freedom occurs in plain sight.
Kristof, the two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author and New York Times columnist, has been working tirelessly to shed light on these women’s stories, and certainly enlightened the hundreds of students who packed into McGuinn 121 to hear him speak. Mr. Kristof and his wife co-authored the book Half the Sky, which describes the stories of survivors of human trafficking and explores the complexities of the issue. Additionally, it provides advice for what people can do to end this egregious human rights violation. This book has drawn many people to the issue and exposed them to the horrors.
As Kristoff surveyed the room April 12th, he sarcastically remarked that he was “disappointed with the sparse turnout.” Well-attended doesn’t begin to describe the room. Students had packed into the aisles and sat cross-legged on the floor, while others stood just outside, hanging on his every word just beyond the door hinges. Kristof even quipped that “students were welcome to hang on the walls” if they so wished. Kristof has a very natural sense of humor, which provides a stark contrast with the serious and grim subject of his reporting. He speaks with ease, a testament to his expertise in the issue of human trafficking, an issue that Kristof said has become the “central moral challenge in this century.” Kristof’s lecture masterfully folded in cold-hard facts with intimate stories and details from his travels. Tears welled up in my eyes as I saw the pictures of young girls and women who had been coerced into a life of prostitution, and were either bound physically or by the fear of what life would be outside the brothel. One such picture that evoked gasps showed a young girl whose eye had been gouged out as punishment for being difficult to her owner. This outward harm only alluded to the severe emotional distress and psychological damage that had been inflicted on these women.
Before the event I, along with a small group of BC students and faculty, had the opportunity to enjoy an intimate dinner and discussion with the man himself. Kristof is as gracious and sympathetic as his writing, and his passion for the issue is evident. Despite the horrors and atrocities he has witnessed, he seems neither jaded nor discouraged, and like his lecture, remains incredibly hopeful for change.
The immense turnout at Kristof’s talk is a testament to the BC students who take their roles as “men and women for others” as a call to action and a responsibility. In addition, the interest attested to the hard work and diligent planning on the part of BC R.E.A.C.T and the other organizations that made the event possible.
While raising awareness is a step in the right direction, Kristof reiterated that “there is no magic bullet, no strategy is as effective as we’d like it to be.” Education, though, provides the opportunity to create conversation that can become a catalyst for change. This conversation about human trafficking, he noted, “has increased, and there is much more consensus than their once was.” However, there is still much progress to be made. I couldn’t help but ask myself, “What can I do?”
We can start by educating ourselves, and dispelling the myths about human trafficking.
Just by attending the lecture, discussing the issue with your friends, and reading this article, you are affirming that this treatment of women is unacceptable. You are affirming that you want change, that change must happen now!