Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Book Review: Slavery Inc. by Lydia Cacho

I've done a few book-related posts (here, here, and here) over the last few weeks, so I decided to take things one step further and start writing the occasional book review.

Since I'm a pretty avid reader with rather diverse tastes, I will try to limit my reviews to books that have some relevance to the overall themes of this blog.

So without further ado, here are my brief thoughts on Slavery Inc: The Untold Story of International Sex Trafficking by a writer by a writer Amnesty International called "perhaps Mexico’s most famous investigative journalist and women’s rights advocate," Lydia Cacho.

What does this book have to do with this blog? I've touched on the subject of evil before, and this book is indeed about evil. Personally, I believe that part of 'being a better person" is understanding the bad things going on in the world so we can be prepared to do our part—no matter how small—to make things better.

Obviously, a book such as this is not especially pleasant to read. Accounts of the sexual exploitation of women and children are hard to bear. Fortunately, Cacho writes elegantly and with compassion, managing to convey the stories survivors tell without being graphic or sensationalist. I don't need to hear specific details about a child being raped. This simple yet heartbreaking quote from Yeana, a 10-year-old sex trafficking survivor, sums up the horror quite well...
"Violence is not good because it hurts and it makes me cry."
Slavery Inc. spans several countries and continents, as Cacho interviews not only the survivors of sex trafficking but the traffickers as well. She also speaks to government officials, police officers, and shelter workers.

A couple of things become abundantly clear as I read.

For one, sex trafficking is a multinational enterprise. It isn't just something that happens "over there." It is a global operation run by criminal cabals that function much like large corporations. According to Cacho, at least 1.39 million people—mostly women and girls—are subject to sexual slavery every year, and for-profit sexual exploitation is the most frequent and most documented type of human trafficking in the world, accounting for 79 percent of all trafficking. Cacho predicts that sex trafficking might soon overtake the illegal drug trade in size and profit.

Two, and perhaps more importantly, sex trafficking could not exist on the scale it does without government officials and law enforcement either looking the other way or actively participating in the trade. While some might instinctively think of this as being a a problem primarily found in developing nations, Cacho encounters it everywhere, including Western Europe, Japan, and the United States. Government involvement with sex trafficking can be obvious (like cops in Cambodia who staged a raid on a victim's shelter to re-kidnap girls and take them back to a brothel) or subtle. As Cacho observes again and again, the illegal sex trafficking industry thrives because of its involvement with legal industries, such as hotels, bars, and casinos. Because these legal industries generate a great deal of tax revenue and generally pump money into the local economy, politicians, government officials, and law enforcement have financial incentive to ignore clear evidence of illegal activity. They also might just get rid of the inconvenient evidence: Many nations, including the U.S., will often just deport victims of sexual trafficking who are in the country illegal and not even bother pursuing a case against the pimps and traffickers themselves.  

One topic that Cacho touches on repeatedly is the relationship between legal and/or voluntary prostitution and sexual slavery. This is a complicated issue for me. I've always been open-minded to arguments for and against legalized prostitution, especially to the arguments of feminists on both sides of the issue. However, Cacho does such a good job in her analysis that I now find myself tilting much more strongly towards the anti-legalization side. 

It is also worth noting that Cacho believes a radical rethinking of how men see themselves and women is key to eliminating sexual exploitation. She writes

"A new masculine revolution is necessary. We need a new generation of men, not warriors, not armed, not threatening divine punishment, not violent, but men who possess a strong sense of progress and justice."
Reading this book, it's difficult not to be overcome with a sense of despair and helplessness. Fortunately, Cacho includes a helpful appendix listing things everyday people can do to help combat human trafficking. Even a little helps. 

As I complete this review, I can't help but recall the words of one of my favorite philosophers, Albert Camus. They seem all to apt when facing the scourge of sexual slavery, especially when it involves the very young...
"Perhaps we cannot prevent this world from being a world in which children are tortured. But we can reduce the number of tortured children."
Postscript: After finishing Slavery Inc., I immediately reread Greg Rucka's Atticus Kodiak novel about sex trafficking Walking Dead for the second or third time. As you can guess, it's one of my favorites. In an earlier post, I described it as "very dark and gripping... sort of like a thinking-man's version of the Liam Neesom film Taken" but not exploitive or xenophobic. Rucka clearly did his research, and while the story may be fictional, all the details in Walking Dead read true.

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