Whilst there are legitimate forms of human trafficking, in recent years the term has come to represent the practice of recruitment, transportation, harbouring or receipt of human beings.  These people can be willing participants (for example, refugees wanting passage to another land) but they are often abducted or taken by force.  Once in the hands of the person receiving them, they are often forced into prostitution or slavery (sexual or otherwise), debt bondage or other kinds of forced labour and involuntary servitude.

"Human trafficking is the second largest organized crime in the world, it has become a larger business than drug trafficking and has generated over US$9.5 Billion/year" - United States Department of State

In his column, New York Times journalist Nicholas D. Kristof wrote a piece called The Evil Behind the Smiles. In it, he discussed the experience of Sina Vann, a girl who was kidnapped at age 13, drugged, used for sexual slavery and beaten and tortured repeatedly.

“I had heard about torture chambers under the brothels but had never seen one, so a few days ago Sina took me to the red-light district here where she once was imprisoned. A brothel had been torn down, revealing a warren of dungeons underneath.

“I was in a room just like those,” she said, pointing. “There must be many girls who died in those rooms.” She grew distressed and added: “I’m cold and afraid. Tonight I won’t sleep.”” - The Evil behind the Smiles [New York Times]

Following this piece, Kristof heard from several readers doubting that conditions were so abusive and saying that many women go into prostitution willingly. There is a huge difference between prostitution and sexual slavery.  Prostitutes are paid, slaves are not.

I must admit though, I was also quite naive about sexual slavery and human trafficking at one stage. I was naive about a lot of things until I read Gangs: A Journey into the Heart of the British Underworld by Tony Thompson.  My review of the book can be found here.  The biggest thing I learned from his book is that crime is not fun or exciting or entertaining.  It is destructive and horrible and things like sexual slavery do happen and they destroy the lives of thousands of people.

So I would never pass judgement on people for their naivety, for not being about to comprehend such evil. The video below is by Kristof too.  It is mildly upsetting and may offend sensitive viewers but it is not too graphic.


“Barack Obama’s presidency will symbolise a victory over the long legacy of 19th century slavery.  I hope that his administration will do more to tackle 21st century slavery” - Nicholas D. Kristof in The Face of Slavery

Next week I will feature some of the great organisations that are working to overcome sexual slavery and help victims to recover.

About Mandy Southgate

Mandy Southgate is an accountant living and working in London. She is passionate about world events such as genocide and apartheid and has a desire to understand how these events continue to occur in the modern world. With a focus on the 20th and 21st centuries, A Passion to Understand reflects her continuing research and reading on these topics.
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  1. You deserve much respect for having the courage to give a voice to something much know, but not talked about.

  2. It is almost too painful to realize that this slavery does exist. The despair of these desperate people is nothing short of tragedy. The violence that accompanies it is horrific.

  3. It's a fist on our hearts.

  4. I'm full of apologies today! Sorry for the late replies - I am just trying to catch up with myself after a super busy month moving house!

    @ Robert: Hiya! Thanks for stopping by and commenting! I think I have the courage but I think that I don't say enough, often enough!

    @ askcherlock: I agree - it seems that our minds cannot comprehend the cruelty that exists in the world.

    @ Italo: I agree.


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