Outspoken columnist encourages students to discover their calling

Nick Kristof never imagined he’d buy a human being. But that’s exactly what he did several years ago to rescue two Cambodian prostitutes.

“At it’s extreme, it really is modern slavery,” Kristof said about forced prostitution in brothels. “When you get receipts for people you buy in the 21st century, you really know something is wrong.”

Kristof, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the New York Times, spoke out against the oppression of women during a Willamette University lecture on April 23. His goal was to galvanize students to find their own ways to better the world.

“Leaving that cocoon and being out of your depth is an important part of your education,” he said. “That sense of being in a very different environment is when you grow new muscles and learn new things.”

Kristof is a Yamhill, Ore. native who has worked as a columnist for The New York Times since 2001. During his career, he’s lived on four continents and has traveled to more than 150 countries — an adventure that fuels his passion for helping the disadvantaged.

Because of his travels, Kristof said he’s learned about the inequities women continually face — especially in developing countries. They’re the ones who go without food and medical care, who are sold into prostitution and who are commonly denied access to an education, he said.

“This is not an equitable world,” he said. “When there isn’t enough food to go around, you feed your son and starve your daughter.”

Kristof’s latest crusade is against, a forum for sex trafficking of underage girls in the United States. The publication’s owners include private equity financiers — such as Goldman Sachs, which has a 16 percent stake, he said.

“We have a real trafficking issue,” he said. “We don’t have the moral authority to tell other people to clean up their act until we do so much more at home.”

Kristof stood up for his beliefs nearly a decade ago by buying two Cambodian women from a brothel and returning them to their families. One married and became a hairdresser. The other, a meth addict, kept returning to the brothel to feed her drug habit.

Due to the escalating cost of police bribes, the brothel later closed and turned into a grocery store. But the meth addict married one of her clients, a police officer who could also supply her with drugs, Kristof said.

“This wasn’t a perfect ending,” Kristof admitted. “But at least the brothel closed.”

Kristof’s lecture was sponsored by the Lilly Project, a university program that helps students find their vocational calling.

To see more photos of Kristof and his visit to Willamette, click here.

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