Closed for business: The fight against human trafficking

A man steps into a small convenience store on a side street in Poipet, Cambodia, and buys a lottery ticket. He probably has no idea that in that same shop, only ten years ago, he could have bought a human being.

In a 2011 New York Times op-ed, Nicholas Kristof tells the story of the shop’s transition from house of slavery to convenience store. During a 2004 trip to Cambodia, Kristof visited the brothel and freed two girls by “purchasing” them for $350. “What staggers me,” he said in an interview, “is that I got receipts for both of them.” Over the last decade, Kristof has been one of many voices illuminating the dark world of sex trafficking. This attention to the issue, along with the dogged work of many NGOs, led to a crackdown in Poipet. While the police technically allowed the brothel to remain open, they began demanding higher and higher bribes from the brothel owners. When the owners saw their profits dwindlingdrastically, they closed up shop voluntarily.

The progress seen in Poipet is being echoed worldwide. In 2000, the U.S. Congress enacted the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, which seeks “to combat trafficking in persons, especially into the sex trade, slavery and involuntary servitude; to reauthorize certain federal programs to prevent violence against women; and for other purposes.” Out of the VTVPA grew the Trafficking in Persons report, which ranks nations according to their compliance in tackling human trafficking. Nations that rank in tier one of a three-tier system are fully compliant with the minimal requirements, while those in tier three are virtually noncompliant and are subject to sanction by the U.S. government. When the report was first issued in 2001, 83 countries were represented, and only 12 met the first-tier requirements; in the June 2011 report, 180 nations were represented, with 32 nations in tier one and 22 in tier three.