I’m not sure what made me grab E. Benjamin Skinner’s 2008 book A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery during one of my recent library visits. Perhaps Misha Glenny’s sweeping and detailed expose of global organized crime McMafia kindled my interest in international crime and related matters. Maybe when confronted by the title of Skinner’s book and finding it hard to believe slavery could exist in this day and age, my curiosity got the better of me. Or after reading in the New York Times over the last decade about the horrors of human trafficking and forced prostitution (and explored in movies like Eastern Promises and Taken or in the cable miniseries Human Trafficking) perhaps I thought it would be wise to read more about this modern scourge. But regardless of what motivated me to read this book I’m glad I did. Despite being a bit uneven, Skinner’s readable book serves as an excellent window into the heart-breaking world of modern-day slavery.
Much like Glenny did with McMafia, Skinner traveled the globe in order to show that modern slavery is truly an international problem. From the villages of Haiti to the tourist hotels of Romania to the gravel pits of India, it’s estimated that close to 27 million people live in some sort of slavery or forced servitude. As Sudanese raiders abduct their southern countrymen, young women from impoverished towns and villages across the former Soviet Block are lured by false promises of gainful employment only to wind up in the brothels of Amsterdam and Dubai.
Thanks to countless interviews and brave undercover work, Skinner did an admirable job exploring this grim world from the ground up. By allowing these former slaves to tell their respective stories, they cease being faceless statistics and instead become flesh and blood individuals. It also enables them to move from being victims to being survivors.
While portions of the book dealing with actual cases of slavery do a fine job showing both the width and depth of this world-wide problem, the amount of attention Skinner’s devotes to the infighting and turf wars between American politicians, US government officials and conservative Christian groups seems a bit much and as a result slows the pace of the narrative. Fortunately, it’s my only major complaint. Considering A Crime So Monstrous is his first book, maybe I’ll cut him some slack.