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Human Trafficking Stories
from Boston to Bangkok

Photo | 承燁 韓 

Sex Trafficking from
Bangkok to Boston

Photo |  承燁 韓

WGBH Boston Public Radio
By Phillip Martin

Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Special Report: Human Trafficking
"Underground Trade: From Boston to Bangkok" is a WGBH eight-part investigation by Schuster Institute Senior Fellow Phillip Martin into human trafficking, from East Asia to New York to New England. ​ 

Part 5: Taken into China


WGBH Investigations reports: Vietnam is losing its children. For years, girls and young women have been taken—kidnapped and trafficked across the border from Vietnam into Cambodia and southern China. Many disappear into big cities. Phillip Martin meets Van Ta, an attorney for Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation and a graduate of Brandeis University.


Listen to the broadcast, "Taken into China," at WGBH Boston Public Radio.



Human Trafficking at the Vietnam-China Border 

​​​When relations between China and Vietnam were normalized in 1991, trade between the two countries surged, and with it, came greater opportunities for human traffickers. Officials in both countries, according to a 2003 UNICEF report, have been coordinating efforts to help stem the illegal flow of people across their borders and provide better services for victims of human trafficking.

Through a 2004 initiative by the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking and a Memorandum of Understanding between six governments in the Greater Mekong Subregion, police in Vietnam and China have ramped up their collaboration to combat human trafficking between their two countries. News reporters, UN officials, and NGOs like the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation working to combat human trafficking say many sex trafficking victims are tricked or deceived by traffickers who then sell them to brothels or over the Internet.

UNICEF quotes Yuan Guangrong, director of the Public Security Bureau of Guangxi Autonomous Region, who “explains that in most of these [trafficking] cases, Vietnamese women were trapped by phony promises of jobs or marriage. ‘Nowadays,’ he says, ‘traffickers often use violence to force their victims into submission. In some cases, the victims were duped when they were kidnapped. There are also cases in which rape or even group rape was committed.’

"'What's more,' [Guangrong] adds, 'The destination for trafficking has extended from border regions to inland provinces such as Henan, Hebei, Anhui, Jiangsu and Guangdong.’”

Guangdong Province (C in the map above which is set on the capital Quangzhou) is where Van Ta from Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation rescued Qui, a trafficked teenage Vietnamese girl profiled in Martin’s story


Read more about China’s efforts to combat cross-border human trafficking and a recent human trafficking arrest by police in Vietnam and this one from 2011. 


Learn more about surveillance and data collection at the Vietnam-China border by United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking.

Mobile Phone & SmartPhone Technology Applications in Counter-Trafficking Efforts

Blue Dragon’s Van Ta depends on mobile cell phone technology in his work to rescue victims of human trafficking. While Martin interviewed Van Ta, a text message came through to his mobile phone from a woman in China. She was borrowing a sympathetic customer's cell phone, says Martin, and texted Van Ta for help.

New digital technologies have made way for new methods of reaching and rescuing victims of human trafficking.

In Southeast Asia, a Hong Kong-based coalition of business owners called The Mekong Club is piloting a new SmartPhone language translation app. It will be used by police and NGOs working on the front-lines in counter-trafficking work to help communicate with individuals they suspect are being trafficked.

Below is a presentation about the SmartPhone app at Google’s 2012 Info Summit, presented by Matt Friedman.


Learn about the Kid Rescue app developed by Telefónica Telecom in Colombia which enables anyone with the app to document suspected illegal child labor by snapping and sending geotagged photos to Kid Rescue.

In 2012, Microsoft awarded $185,000 to six organizations to study digital technology use by human traffickers. Microsoft's ultimate goal is to allow tech companies to use this data to create technologies that more effectively counter the illicit trade of human beings. 

Learn more about the role of technology in human trafficking at the 2012 Microsoft Research Faculty Summit> 

In a recently published comprehensive study, researchers from the USC Annenberg  Center on Communication Leadership & Policy (CCLP) said they believe mobile phones, as their use becomes more prevalent, will play an increasingly crucial role in enabling the criminal activities of human traffickers. The CCLP also believe that opportunities exist for counter-trafficking, a few of which they explain in this short broadcast.


Read the CCLP report about the rise of mobile phone use by human traffickers in domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) in the US.


​Part 1 Hiding in Plain Sight

2​ The Route Through Queens

3 The Business of Trafficking

4 One Town In Thailand

5​ Taken Into China

6 Trading in Shame
7  : Modern-Day Slavery in America
8 : Human Trafficking: What Now?


Special Report: Human Trafficking Underground Trade: From Boston to Bangkok is an eight-part investigation into human trafficking from East Asia to the Northeast Corridor of the United States by
Phillip Martin, senior investigative reporter at WGBH Boston Public Radio and a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University.

The WGBH investigation was done in collaboration with the International Center for Journalists, the Ford Foundation, and the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. 

​Claire Pavlik Purgus, Schuster Institute managing editor, conceptualized, designed and edited this site which provides supporting documentation and context for  WGBH Radio's human trafficking investigation, "Underground Trade: From Boston to Bangkok" and

PBS American Experience's

"The Abolitionists."

Sophie Elsner, Schuster Institute research editor, supervised research by Brandeis students who work as Research Assistants at the Schuster Institute.

More Schuster Institute


Students who contributed research:

Sidra Ahmed

David Altman

Damiana Andonova

Simon Cramer

Lydia Emmanouilidou

Dafna Fine

Ariel Glickman

Shafaq Hasan

Elly Kalfus

Lindi Li
Alisa Partlan

Avi Snyder
Andrew Wingens
Madeline Ziff

​Vietnam Anti-Human Trafficking Legislation

 & Track Record


The United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking's 2010 SIREN report for Vietnam describes Vietnam's legislative tools to counter human trafficking, trafficking data and trends, actions taken, and key players in the counter-trafficking effort.

Vietnam was placed in Tier 2 of the U.S. Department of State’s 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report, a step up from Tier 2 Watch in the previous two years.

China Anti-Human Trafficking Legislation

& Track Record

​The United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking's 2010 SIREN report for China describes China's legislative tools to counter human trafficking, trafficking data and trends, actions taken, and key players in the counter-trafficking effort.​

China was designated a Tier 2 Watch country in the U.S. Department of State’s 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report.

Human trafficking routes in and out of Vietnam are shown in the two maps created by the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking. To the right,  green arrows indicate domestic trafficking routes and red arrows indicate cross border routes to and from neighboring countries. See larger map>


in Persons Hotlines


04 3775 93 27

1800 1579

​1800 555 576



To report trafficking cases
and access referral services


Women’s hotline


Trade Union hotline

Children’s rights hotline

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