The Washington Post
A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slaveryby E. Benjamin Skinner
As Samantha Power and Philip Gourevitch did for genocide, Skinner has now done for modern-day slavery.
To be a moral witness is perhaps the highest calling of journalism, and in this unforgettable, highly readable account of contemporary slavery, author Benjamin Skinner travels around the globe to personally tell stories that need to be told -- and heard.
As Samantha Power and Philip Gourevitch did for genocide, Skinner has now done for modern-day slavery. With years of reporting in such places as Haiti, Sudan, India, Eastern Europe, The Netherlands, and, yes, even suburban America, he has produced a vivid testament and moving reportage on one of the great evils of our time.
There are more slaves in the world today than at any time in history. After spending four years visiting a dozen countries where slavery flourishes, Skinner tells the story, in gripping narrative style, of individuals who live in slavery, those who have escaped from bondage, those who own or traffic in slaves, and the mixed political motives of those who seek to combat the crime.
Skinner infiltrates trafficking networks and slave sales on five continents, exposing a modern flesh trade never before portrayed in such proximity. From mega-harems in Dubai to illicit brothels in Bucharest, from slave quarries in India to child markets in Haiti, he explores the underside of a world we scarcely recognize as our own and lays bare a parallel universe where human beings are bought, sold, used, and discarded. He travels from the White House to war zones and immerses us in the political and flesh-and-blood battles on the front lines of the unheralded new abolitionist movement.
At the heart of the story are the slaves themselves. Their stories are heartbreaking but, in the midst of tragedy, readers discover a quiet dignity that leads some slaves to resist and aspire to freedom. Despite being abandoned by the international community, despite suffering a crime so monstrous as to strip their awareness of their own humanity, somehow, some enslaved men regain their dignity, some enslaved women learn to trust men, and some enslaved children manage to be kids. Skinner bears witness for them, and for the millions who are held in the shadows.
In so doing, he has written one of the most morally courageous books of our time, one that will long linger in the conscience of all who encounter it, and one that -- just perhaps -- may move the world to constructive action.
The Washington Post
Today there are "more slaves than at any time in history," according to journalist Skinner's report on current and former slaves and slave dealers. Skinner's travelogue-cum-indictment focuses most sharply on Haiti, Sudan, Romania and India, and is interspersed with a detailed account of the work of John Miller, director of the State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, or "America's antislavery czar." Skinner reiterates that sexual trafficking is only one component of slavery, but devotes the bulk of this book (when it is not following Miller's State Department career) to this issue. The text teeters toward the travelogue, taking the reader to "Dubai's most notorious brothel" and Skinner's adventures in "pos[ing] as a client to talk to women... [or] as an arms dealer to talk to traffickers." Nevertheless, Skinner's story merits reading, and not just because the cause is noble and the detail often fascinating, such as the moral complications of Christian Solidarity International's "redemption" or purchase of 85,000 slaves' freedom. Skinner's account of the internal workings of the State Department and the deep links to faith-based antislavery groups and their special interests is seriously newsworthy and, at times, moving. (Mar.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
"Rigorously investigated and fearlessly reported, A Crime So Monstrous is a passionate and thorough examination of the appalling reality of human bondage in today's world. In his devastating narrative, Ben Skinner boldly casts light on the unthinkable, yet thriving, modern-day practice of slavery, exposing a global trade in human lives. The abuses detailed in these pages are repugnant, but there is hope to be found: by giving voice to the victims, Skinner helps restore their dignity and makes crucial strides toward closing this shameful chapter in history." Bill Clinton
"In his fierce, bold determination to see the lives of modern-day slaves up close, Benjamin Skinner reminds me of the British abolitionist of two hundred years ago, Zachary Macaulay, who once traveled on a slave ship across the Atlantic, taking notes. Skinner goes everywhere, from border crossings to brothels to bargaining sessions with dealers in human beings, to bring us this vivid, searing account of the wide network of human trafficking and servitude which spans today's globe." Adam Hochschild
"A great storyteller, Skinner brings the whole underworld of traffickers and their victims to life. At the same time, he shows how complex the phenomenon really is, and why the solutions of would-be abolitionists in this country have proven misguided or simply futile." Frances FitzGerald
"A Crime So Monstrous is a remarkably brave and unflinching piece of reportage and storytelling. E. Benjamin Skinner bears witness, sharing stories so unsettling, so neglected, so chilling they will leave you shaking with anger. This should be required reading for policy makers around the world and, for that matter, anyone concerned about the human condition." Alex Kotlowitz
"Ben Skinner does a great public service by exposing the massive scope of human trafficking in the world today. I appreciate his chapter on the heroic role Ambassador John Miller played in getting the U.S. government to stand against this evil." U.S. Senator John McCain
"This book exposes the horrors of modern-day slavery and human trafficking, demanding attention to an issue that has for too long hidden in the shadows. Skinner's narrative takes us many different places around the world, but can lead to only one conclusion: The U.S. must do more to end this suffering." U.S. Senator Russ Feingold
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Read an ExcerptA Crime So Monstrous Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery
By E. Benjamin Skinner Free Press Copyright © 2008 E. Benjamin Skinner
All right reserved.
Imagine that Robert E. Lee's staff officer had not lost his three cigars in 1862. Imagine that the general's Antietam battle plans, which were wrapped around those cigars, hadn't wound up in Union hands. Alternatively, imagine that George McClellan hadn't finally used the providential intelligence to stop the rebels in the bloodiest battle in American history. Imagine that a thus disempowered Lincoln was unable to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Imagine that the South had won and spread slavery to the Western Territories.
Imagine that, eighty years later, Japan limited its racist empire to Asia, rather than attacking Pearl Harbor. Imagine that Hitler, unchecked by the Confederate States of America, rolled back the steady advance of freedom since England abolished the slave trade in 1807.
Imagine, in other words, a world where the ideologies that endorsed slavery still stood.
None of these scenarios happened. And yet: There are more slaves today than at any point in human history.
In his book Disposable People (1999), an unassuming scholar named Kevin Bales claimed that there were then 27 million slaves -- whom he defined as human beings forced to work, under threatof violence, for no pay -- worldwide. His figure was staggering, even when measured against other terrible epochs. At its height under Joseph Stalin, the Soviet Gulag held 5 million slaves. The Nazis enslaved 12 million in total, but culled them so rapidly that far fewer were alive at any given time.
The year 1861 was the only one when the total slave population rivaled today. That year, there were 3.8 million slaves in the United States -- a greater number than in the rest of the world combined. In Russia at the time, though most of Europe had abolished slavery, there may have been 23 million serfs. That estimate, from a Bolshevik writer justifying the excesses of the Communist revolution, is deceptive. A serf was a subject, albeit diminished, under law, and often owned property; a slave was himself mere property under law.
Human bondage is today illegal everywhere. But if we accept that one slave exists in a world that has abolished legal slavery, then, if we look closely, we soon must accept that millions of slaves exist.
Bales acknowledges that his figure is far from exact. John Miller, America'santislavery czar, told me, "These victims don't stand in line, Ben, and wait for a census to count them." Bales pleaded for criticism, hoping to be proved wrong. Subsequent regional studies have only buttressed his claim. A detailed, 2005 International Labour Organization report found 10 million forced laborers in Asia alone. Whatever the total number, it was big. And, to me, meaningless.
"The death of one man is a tragedy," Stalin, who knew something about the subject, supposedly maintained. "The death of a million men is a statistic." Hence the first reason for this book. I could not prove the definite number of slaves, and I would not try. But I might show what their slavery meant.
The second reason for paying attention was because my government did. A week before the 2000 election, President Bill Clinton signed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. For the first time, an American president assumed global abolition as a national burden. The new law called for programs to eradicate slavery, and mandated that the State Department annually rank countries based on their efforts. Tier One was for those showing progress toward abolition. A Tier Three ranking, reserved for reprobate nations that countenanced bondage, could trigger sanctions. John Miller, whose office wrote the report, intended to "name and shame" foreign governments.
"Name and shame." It's a far cry from the nineteenth-century interdictions of the Royal Navy. Over a period of seventy years, 2,000 British sailors died freeing 160,000 slaves.
But the modern American war on slavery was nonetheless historic. Whereas President Lincoln used emancipation to win foreign government support for the Union, President George W. Bush used the nation's strength to win foreign government support for emancipation. John Miller, his knight in the effort, began working on the issue at the same moment I did. Thus, in this book I have woven his years of discovery in with my own.
Three caveats. First, regarding language. For Bales's statistic to mean anything, "slavery" has to mean something. I adopt his definition. I met dozens of people who described themselves as slaves. Their stories were often tragic. Many were child laborers. Many faced terrible abuse. But, in this book, those who failed to meet all of Bales's three criteria -- compelled to work, through force or fraud, for no pay beyond subsistence -- are not slaves.
Second, regarding scope. The book is grossly insufficient in its reach. Over five years, I visited twelve countries and recorded interviews with over a hundred slaves, slave dealers, and survivors. They were not a monolithic bunch. They had lives. Herein I tell the stories of only a few. There are millions that I never reached, and dozens of afflicted countries that I never investigated.
Finally, regarding facts. I changed eight names. In Europe, "Tatiana" asked that I use pseudonyms for her and her fellow slaves as well as her traffickers; and I changed the names of my fixers in the Romanian and Turkish underworlds. In India, "Gonoo" asked that I change his name and that of his eldest son. Slaves in preindustrial societies like those in front-line southern Sudan rarely shared a Western sense of time, thus their personal chronologies may be imprecise. I was able to cross-check most of their stories, but not all, and I have noted inconsistencies when they occurred. I converted currencies into dollars, adjusted for inflation. I altered no other details.
The first thing that John Miller ever said to me was that slavery is the greatest human rights challenge of my generation. He was right. But in the first couple of weeks in any new country that I visited, my greatest challenge was finding a single slave. After talking to the right people, often shady characters, I went through the looking glass. Then the slaves were everywhere. I often wondered whether I might have saved those that I found in bondage. With one exception, I did not. I withheld action to save one person, in the hope that this book would later save many more. Writing that now, it still feels like an excuse for cowardice.Copyright © 2008 by E. Benjamin Skinner
Excerpted from A Crime So Monstrous by E. Benjamin Skinner Copyright © 2008 by E. Benjamin Skinner. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
E. Benjamin Skinner was born in Wisconsin and is a graduate of Wesleyan University. He has reported on a wide range of topics from Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East for such publications as Newsweek International, Travel + Leisure, and Foreign Affairs. He currently is a senior vice president for Tau Investment Management and lives in Manhattan. Crime So Monstrous is his first book.
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Largely thought to be as archaic as history itself, A Crime So Monstrous reminds us all of the horrors of slavery and its thriving presence in the modern age. Skinner's experiences in slavery-entrenched nations reveal how common forced bondage is and the unacceptable lack of action from local governments. This book is a must-read because it details several accounts of modern slaves: their families; their sufferings; if fortunate, their freedom; and the aftermath of their escape. It is not unusual of the media to overlook stories on the indecent reduction of humanity; this book is a grand awakening for readers overshadowed by other superfluous events. Skinner organizes the book by following each personal account of a person in, or once was in, bondage with international reaction to the situation. This arrangement of chapters evokes a nod of approval for leaders in the abolitionist movement, if they succeed in their agendas, or a shake of repulsion for the incredible passivity of international enforcers. Despite feeling quite an accumulation of emotions during my read, the book itself is rather emotionless, focusing more on documentation rather than advocacy (though I should mention that advocating for these slaves was not Skinner's intention in writing this book). One can appreciate the informative nature of the book but do not expect much resolve. Perhaps the lack of a conclusion is exactly the point: slavery may very well always exist if no brute and absolute action is taken. This book is recommended for those in high school and above because it requires quite a lot of patience. Overall, in the pile of other similar books, A Crime So Monstrous should be highly considered.
I highly recommend picking this up; but I'll be upfront it is not an easy read, not just because of the horrific stories of slavery but because Skinner does get mired down, on occasion, of political explanations for the causes of slavery (like in the chapter in Sudan). If you overlook or skip those paragraphs, the book is very good. It exposes a subject in today's world that is so often overlooked.
This book is entirely eye-opening about the horrors of modern slavery around the world. A little out of date now in 2012, but still relevant.
It was boring and just went on and on not giving you any real insite into the subject matter. I had to force myself to finish the 1st chapter.