- A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern Day Slavery
Benjamin Skinner contends in A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern Day Slavery that there are more slaves today than at any other point in history.1 He writes:
You may have thought you missed your chance to own a slave. Maybe you imagined that slavery died along with the 360,000 Union soldiers whose blood fertilized the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment. Perhaps you assumed that there was meaning behind the dozen international conventions banning the slave trade, or that the deaths of 30 million people in world wars had spread freedom across the globe. But you're in luck.2
The reality of modern day slavery hides behind many labels—human trafficking, [End Page 457] debt bondage, and bonded labor. However, Skinner's book reaffirms that the oldest social institution persists in the same form as it existed during the days of William Wilberforce: human beings across the world are forced to work, without pay and under threat of violence. A Crime So Monstrous is not the first exposé on the atrocities of contemporary slavery. Skinner draws heavily from the work of other renowned modern abolitionists—primarily Kevin Bales, President of Free the Slaves, who was the first to document that there are currently an estimated 27 million slaves in the world.3
What makes A Crime So Monstrous remarkable is that Skinner seeks not to count or re-count the number of slaves worldwide. Rather, he takes a journalistic approach to the issue of modern-day slavery, seeking to expose the greatest crime against humanity by investigating what slavery means to those who are enslaved. In the process, he disproves of, at least in a moral sense, the notion that slaves are "disposable people" by bridging the gap between narrative and well-researched data. Skinner puts a human face on a widespread, global problem; quoting the words of Joseph Stalin: "The death of one man is tragic. The death of a million men is a statistic."4 As the book evolves, the reader becomes an onlooker to the daily tragedies that so many slaves live with around the world.
After spending four years visiting countries where slavery flourishes, Skinner narrates the lives of those who live in slavery, those who have escaped and transcended it, those who own and traffic slaves, and those who fuel the modern abolition movement in Washington D.C. and beyond. His book spans his travels across five continents and twelve countries exposing the larger context of modern-day slavery by interviewing the individuals most intimately involved: slaves, slave traffickers, and modern abolitionists. Skinner admits his book only scratches the surface of the issue,5 but what the book lacks in breadth it makes up for in depth of discovery by exposing the inner-mechanisms of an underground world in which human beings are bought, sold, and discarded. Skinner interviewed slaves trapped in a variety of servitudes, including domestic labor, sex work, agriculture, and industry. One common denominator connects all of their narratives: desperate poverty.6 Skinner begins his journey much closer to home than one would expect. Chapter One, titled "The Riches of the Poor," is set in Haiti, approximately a five hour journey from the United Nations building in New York City. In Port-au-Prince, Skinner walks us through his experience negotiating the purchase of a human child, in broad daylight, for the bargain basement price of $50.7 Of [End Page 458] course, Skinner notes that $50 is an inflated price for an American, given that the average monthly income of a slave-owning household in Haiti is about $30. Yet child slavery flourishes.8 Nevertheless, in the days of William Wilberforce and the African slave trade, human beings were an investment. A slave owner would expect to pay around the equivalent of $40,000 in today's currency for a slave.9 In October 2005, Skinner found that human beings are much more disposable, at...