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A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face With Modern-Day Slavery by E. Benjamin Skinner (2008). 5 out of 5 stars.

“For our purposes, let’s say that the center of the moral universe is in Room S-3800 of the UN Secretariat, Manhattan. From here, you are some five hours from being able to negotiate the sale, in broad daylight, of a healthy boy or girl. Your slave will come in any color you like, as Henry Ford said, as long as it’s black. Maximum age: 15. He or she can be used for anything. Sex or domestic labor are the most frequent uses, but it’s up to you” (1).

So begins A Crime So Monstrous.

First a definition: “A slave is someone who is forced to work, through fraud or threat of violence, for no pay beyond subsistence” (289).

Here’s the problem: Slavery is illegal in every country in the world, yet there are more humans in slavery today than at any time in history and most people are blissfully unaware of this reality. When there is publicity or pressure, it usually centers on the issue of sex-trafficking and forced prostitution, a problem which, while grotesque and dehumanizing, makes up only a fraction of the global human trafficking and slavery that occurs. Skinner’s goal with this book is to give face to the faceless people involved – those who are in slavery, those who traffic in human beings, those who give them cover and aid, those who try to stop them, and those whose demand drives the worldwide market.

Through this book, you will meet:

  • The restaviks, children in Haiti who are bought and sold for domestic labor or sex and/or who live with unspeakable violence.
  • Women and children in Southern Sudan, who are kidnapped and forced into various forms of slavery in the north.
  • Teenage girls in Romania who are tricked into bondage and then sold and shipped like cattle through a modern day Middle Passage to work as prostitutes in brothels around the world.
  • Families in India who live under illegal debt bondage, working in unsafe jobs for no pay and under threat of violence or death if they attempt to leave.
  • Young immigrants who are enslaved in the United States, often slipping under the radar of school and social support structures while suffering physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.

The research and reporting in the book is superb, and Skinner literally risks his life on numerous occasions to get inside an very dark and hidden world. He found himself negotiating the sale of other human beings with some of the lowest scum. He brings first-hand accounts of people who have escaped slavery and of those who are still in it. The book is disturbing on many levels, but those who would rather just not hear about it are complicit. Especially disturbing was the realization that much of the sex-trafficking demand in several countries is actually driven by the existence of international military and support personnel who are purportedly in a country to provide humanitarian help.

Interspersed with these accounts are discussions of the political and legal efforts to make a dent in global slavery, with a special focus on the work of John Miller, who served as the director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking In Persons from 2002-2006. Reading of the efforts of those such as John Miller, who are tirelessly working to free slaves and prevent new ones through the world, are encouraging. Reading of the ambivalence, obstructions, brick walls, misguided policies, and ulterior motives within governments both at home and abroad was devastating. At one point, he writes:

“George W. Bush did more to free modern-day slaves than any other president. But on the subject of human bondage, history does not grade on a curve. 

Critics will conclude that his administrations abolitionist efforts can be summed up in three words: sparkle and fade. And media malaise reflected that waning government attention: there were less than half as many English-language news stories mentioning modern-day slavery in 2006 as there were in 2004. 

Following John Miller’s resignation, his deputies carried on his struggle to demote India for countenancing more slaves than any other country. While they one the support of John Negroponte…, ultimately Condaleezza Rice turned her back on the Indian slaves once again in 2007. 

Administration defenders will counter that, despite many missteps, Miller had led a bold attack on a disgracefully overlooked crime against humanity. He personified an optimistic approach that abolition, real abolition, was possible. It was an attitude that stood in marked contrast to the cynicism of many international organizations. But he oversaw a policy that was defective before his arrival, and after his departure.”

In the name of diplomacy and for the sake of other interests, the United States found itself inconsistent applying its political pressure against human trafficking, refusing to take meaningful steps with countries such as the Netherlands, India, and Saudi Arabia, where the failure in government action has resulted in continued and growing slavery within those nations.

Skinner also spent some time discussing organizations such as Free the Slaves (www.freetheslaves.net), who have been very successful at working with grassroots organizations to free slaves, bring perpetrators to justice, and begin to address many of the root causes that could lead someone to end up a slave.

This book and others like it are important to bring to light an issue that seems so easily ignored in our culture. Christians, especially, who know the bondage of sin and the liberation that comes in Christ, are the people who should be the most voiceful advocates for these voiceless millions. As Skinner reports, Evangelicals were on the front lines of the drive against sex trafficking and prostitution but, sadly, their zeal has not extended so forcefully to all forms of slavery in the world. I pray that changes.