I’d gotten so used to Nicholas Kristof’s January visits to prostitutes in Cambodia that it was something of a shock to find him this January in Calcutta’s red-light district instead.
As readers of his New York Times columns in the past few years will know, around this time–a smart choice, weatherwise–Kristof heads to Southeast Asia to write about the scourge of child prostitution. One can hardly fault him for that, even though Kristof’s bluff busybody prose is irksome, as he takes his pet peeve out for an annual saunter, the way A.M. Rosenthal did for years with female circumcision in Africa.
So far as I know, Rosenthal never actually bought a young African woman to save her from circumcision. Maybe they aren’t for sale. In 2004 Kristof did buy two young Cambodian women–Srey Neth for $150 and Srey Mom for $203–to get them out of brothels in Poipet. There was something very nineteenth-century about the whole thing, both in moral endeavor and journalistic boosterism. In January 2005 Kristof was back in Cambodia to report that while Srey Neth was doing well, Srey Mom was back in the brothel, probably because she needed the drugs. Even in 2004 some of us had our doubts, since Srey Mom wouldn’t leave the brothel until Kristof sprang not only for the $203 but also for extra cash for her cell phone and some jewelry she’d hocked.
I smell an HBO movie in the offing. Already in the Times online I can see pictures of the Cambodian girls and Kristof’s videos of himself engaged in good works.
I clicked on “prostitution” at the foot of a Kristof column and found myself looking at a cheery promo piece published in the Times in early January about a brothel for women customers that Heidi Fleiss is planning to build in Nevada. Maybe there’ll be rooms with teenage boys to slake the appetites of all those schoolteachers who seduce their students. Then Kristof can schedule a buyout for them too, perhaps in January 2007, if Heidi gets her license from the State of Nevada by then. She told the Times reporter she’d already sold the rights to HBO.
This January Kristof’s been in India. On January 22 from Calcutta’s red-light district came his interview with Geeta, kidnapped with all sorts of exciting trimmings for Times readers (“Then the aunt locked her in a soundproof room in a brothel with an Arab man who bought her virginity”). On January 24 he issued another column from Calcutta about how to battle sex trafficking, with suggestions for fiercer policing, campaigns against the sales of virgins, inspection of brothels for prisoners and so on, and a suggestion that Bush, on his impending visit to India, lead “dignitaries and TV cameras through a red-light slum and down a fetid alley to the sewer-side offices of New Light. The entourage could then spotlight reformers like Ms. Basu….”