Investigation into Modern-day Slavery
Earlier this week, I listened to an interview with Benjamin Skinner on his new book, A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery. In it, he recounted the horrific scene where he was offered a young Down syndromed girl, with her hastily made-up mascara running down her cheeks, for the price of some 1,500 euros.
During the four years that Benjamin Skinner researched modern-day slavery for his new book, "A Crime So Monstrous," he posed as a buyer at illegal brothels on several continents, interviewed convicted human traffickers in a Romanian prison and endured giardia, malaria, dengue and a bad motorcycle accident. But Skinner, an investigative journalist, is most haunted by his experience in a seedy brothel in Bucharest, Romania, where he was offered a young woman with Down syndrome in exchange for a used car.
"There are more slaves today than at any point in human history," writes Skinner, citing a recent estimate that there are currently 27 million worldwide. One hundred and forty-three years after the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed in 1865 and 60 years after the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights banned the slave trade worldwide, slavery -- or, as it is euphemistically called, human trafficking -- is actually thriving. It is, as Hillary Clinton has said, "the dark underbelly of globalization."
That slavery in its many forms -- debt bondage, forced domestic servitude and forced prostitution -- still exists is, indeed, shocking, mostly because it is invisible to those of us who don't know where to look for it. Skinner's great achievement is that he shines a light on the international slave trade, exposing the horrors of bondage not only through assiduous reporting and interviews with modern-day abolitionists and government officials, but by sharing the stories of several survivors. These poignant tales -- of people like Muong, a 12-year-old Dinka boy from southern Sudan, who is abducted (with his brother and mother) by an Arab slave driver; Tatiana, an Eastern European woman who is tricked into slavery when her boyfriend of six months finds her an "au pair" job in Amsterdam; and Gonoo, an Indian man in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh who inherits a debt from his father and spends his days working it off at a stone quarry -- illustrate the harsh realities of slavery while also offering some hope that former slaves can rebuild their lives.