Episode 11: Sylvia Yu Friedman: A Long Road to Justice: Stories From the Frontlines in Asia


A note before we begin. Please be advised this episode may be triggering for some listeners. In this episode, there is a conversation about sex trafficking, sexual violence, torture, and military rape. Listener discretion is advised.

Slavery is not a historical issue—it’s happening today. Many of us will be lucky to never see or experience this dark side of humanity. 

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Humanitarian Entrepreneur podcast! My guest today is Sylvia Yu Friedman. Sylvia is an award-winning filmmaker, investigative journalist, serial entrepreneur, and advisor to philanthropists.

For Sylvia’s work, she has had rare and incredible access to victims of sex trafficking and modern slavery in China, Thailand, Cambodia, North Korea, South Korea, Myanmar, and Indonesia. Amid this terrible human suffering, she has seen frontline workers carrying a great light that has overcome the darkness in some of the most frightening places on Earth. 

Her latest book, A Long Road to Justice: Stories from the Frontlines in Asia, describes her personal journey in the fight against slavery.

Enjoy my conversation with Sylvia and be sure to leave us a review wherever you’re listening. It really helps.

In This Episode:

[01:45] – We’re introduced to Sylvia Yu Friedman. Sylvia defines modern slavery, human trafficking, and what areas are encompassed in sex trafficking.

[03:23] – Sylvia explains her calling to work with survivors of Imperial Japanese military sex slavery.

[06:14] – Sylvia shares a story about Kim Hak-sun, a “comfort woman” who ultimately was a #MeToo woman in her own era from Japan in the 1930s. 

[09:10] – This is how people get put into sex trafficking, according to Sylvia.

[12:01] – How girls who are sexually abused and migrants with impoverished lives get pushed into being sex trafficked. 

[14:05] – We hear about bride trafficking in China.

[16:50] – Beyond greed and love of money, Sylvia talks about the mindset of those who sell women. 

[19:30] – The old opium-trading routes still impact many of those in Asia who are caught up in sex trafficking today.

[21:25] – We’re shocked and pained to hear Sylvia’s recollection of reading accounts about Asian victims of Japanese military sex trafficking after the women were no longer useful.

[23:10] – Sylvia tells us how even in the West, there are runaways who don’t have safe places to go and end up selling their bodies. 

[25:10] – Family is so important to the development of people’s lives. 

[26:22] – Sylvia’s call to action, in her words.

[29:06] – Sylvia hopes more professionals and people will step up to donate time, talents, and money to address these issues.

[31:00] – The Mekong Club has been able to step in and help those who are voiceless and marginalized. 

[32:45] – How does one go about healing, forgiving, and having compassion for oneself and others in sex trafficking? 

[35:22] – Here’s the series of events that brought Sylvia out of writing in place of anger to a place of reconciliation and healing. 

[38:20] – Forgiving releases oneself from their own prison. 

[40:55] – Sylvia describes how she navigated being in the trenches of trauma.

[43:05] – No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. Sylvia reveals how she wanted to express what she was going through.

[45:15] – Why Sylvia was grateful for how her worst experiences have become her most valuable. 

[47:10] – Sylvia recounts a time she empathetically felt the despair and pain speaking to a survivor.

[49:46] – Sylvia highlights all of the things we can do to help fight sex trafficking. 

[52:59] – Tiffany wraps up the conversation. 


Website – Humanitarian Entrepreneur

Instagram – Humanitarian Entrepreneur

Connect with Sylvia:

LinkedIn – Sylvia Yu Friedman

Book: A Long Road to Justice: Stories from the Frontlines in Asia

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