Thoughts on Siddharth Kara’s “Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery”

KaraYesterday I finished reading Siddharth Kara’s book Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery.  There are about 28 million people in slavery across the world today, only a fraction of whom are sex slaves.  But Kara’s book gives a horrifying glimpse into the very real evil of sex trafficking.  He spent years travelling to hotspots for this form of slavery, such as Falkland Road in Mumbai and the Salaria in Rome.  In each place he spent time interviewing victims of human trafficking, often doing his own detective work in finding the brothels that housed slaves and interviewing them secretly inside the brothel.  The stories are harrowing: young girls beaten, starved, drugged, and forced to serve customers 20 times a day.

Kara blames the rise of sex trafficking on several factors.  First is economic globalization, including IMF policies that crippled the economies of former Soviet republics and some southeast Asian countries in the 1990s.  This led to poverty than in many such places created a desperation for jobs which allowed people to be tricked into believing that traffickers offering legitimate jobs in the cities, only to discover too late that they were becoming slaves.    Second is gender bias against women in many cultures, especially in India, Nepal, Albania, and parts of southeast Asia.  Third are poorly implemented governmental strategies to oppose trafficking, including a lack of extradition agreements between certain countries, policies which focus only on the transport of slaves, and corrupt and easily bribed judges, prosecutors, police forces, and border-guards.

Given this analysis of the situation, Kara gives a detailed proposal for a way to fight human trafficking in general and human trafficking in particular.  Included are suggestions for more just economic policies and improved techniques for governmental opposition to slavery.  The goal of these policies, for Kara, is to increase the cost of doing business for slave-owners to the point that slavery is not an economically sustainable business model.  Current fines imposed on convicted traffickers are surprisingly small, and the rates of conviction are so low that human trafficking is (bizarrely) a low-risk venture.  If fines and prison sentences (and of course prosecution and conviction rates) were raised to the levels he suggests, Kara believes that slave-owners would no longer think the money they generate from slaves is worth the risk and the business side of human trafficking would crumble. 

So, writing as a pastor, I’m wondering what can the Church do to fight against this manifestation of evil?  Certainly we can give. Numerous times in the book Kara relates how non-profits and NGOs that work against trafficking or provide shelter for victims are underfunded and poorly supported. Kara gave part of the proceeds from the book to Free the Slaves . At a conference a year ago I met Mark Wexler, of Not For Sale.  Their I am page has ideas of ways to help presented in such a way that its accessible to anyone.  For people of faith, they have the Underground Church Network.

Yet even beyond the scope of these practical human attempts, I wonder is there more the Church can do?  Some stories in the book seemed to reveal the blatantly demonic.  Nigerian Edo women, frequently trafficked to Italy, undergo a ritual that gives their captors and owners a “spiritual” power over them, preventing them from even testifying against the traffickers.  Kara writes that when forced to testify, “Some suffered epileptic fits or entered catatonic trances rather than break their juju vows” (p. 16; see also pages 89-92).  Thinking of Ephesians 6:12 where Paul says “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but . . . against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places,” I wonder what this means for evils such as slavery and human trafficking.   On another level, how much of the problem really lies in the human heart?  What if “customers” who purchase prostitutes repented of lust?  What difference would it make if the Church were serious in its discipleship and proclamation about promoting gender-equality (Galatians 3:28)?  Or if we really confronted the sin of greed that drives the capitalist imperialism that Kara says created the economic conditions that allow slavery to flourish?

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3 comments
  1. Pretty much all of the problem lies in the human heart.

    Then again, that’s true of most of this world’s ills.

  2. Chris,
    I commend you on a fine review and analysis. The subject of sex trafficking is a horrific one, especially when we consider that it often involves a number of other crimes. All the more shocking is the fact that slavery in America today occurs in many other forms as well. America’s slaves can be found – or more accurately, not found – in all 50 states, working as domestics, farm laborers, sweatshop and factory workers, members of construction and landscaping crews. I’ve just co-written, along with Free the Slaves president Kevin Bales, The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today (UC Press, 2009), which presents the various ways in which both foreign nationals and American citizens are being caught in slavery here annually. The book also analyzes what is – and isn’t – being done to combat it, and offers guidelines for the average citizen, and for government, in this war to eradicate modern-day slavery in our own country. Many thanks for providing a forum; without awareness, there is scant hope of a resolution.
    Ron Soodalter
    co-author, The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today

  3. Check out http://www.callandresponse.com for more info on the modern slave trade and simple ways you can contribute to ending this industry.

    Call + Response is a documentary made by Justin Dillon that uses celebrities and music to tell the story of human trafficking. The film is life changing!

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