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Reviewed by:
  • Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective
  • Howard Tolley Jr. (bio)
Louise Shelley, Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective (Cambridge University Press, 2010), 341 pages, ISBN 9780521130875.

George Mason University Professor Louise Shelley founded and directs the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TraCCC). With a sociology Ph.D. and a Masters in Criminology, she has done sixteen years of field research on every continent, testified as an expert witness in trafficking prosecutions, and studied the extensive literature on organized crime and human trafficking, especially sexual exploitation. Her book sets out to examine "all forms of human trafficking globally … [u]sing a historical and comparative perspective" to show "that there is more than one business model" and concludes "that human trafficking will grow in the twenty-first century as a result of economic and demographic inequalities … the rise of conflicts, and possibly global climate change."1 Addressing her work to a broad audience of scholars, policymakers, students, and the [End Page 895] general public, Shelley recommends coordinated efforts of government, business, the media, and intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations to "stem the growth" of a problem she considers a defining issue of the twenty-first century. Despite the author's impressive credentials, extensive research, and thorough documentation, this reviewer concludes that her work is no more successful than others in providing reliable data. Numerous other works more effectively cover the same ground, and Shelley's misuse of secondary sources to support a critical factual claim casts serious doubt on her methodology.

The book's introductory chapter presents data to demonstrate the global scope of the problem. Shelley relies on reports of the International Labor Organization (ILO), UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the US Department of State. Their estimates made between 2004 and 2008 vary widely, and she does not endorse any one as authoritative. Shelley cites US Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports from 2006 and 2007 that cast doubt on both the global and US estimates of human trafficking. The early US estimate of 800,000 victims per year is no longer used in the annual trafficking in persons report, but the authorities cited continue to regard trafficking as a major problem. Shelly decided to focus the book "particularly on human beings trafficked for sexual exploitation, although attention is paid to all aspects of the … problem."2

Two chapters in Part I seek to explain why human trafficking has flourished and to document the consequences. Since trafficking results from poverty, civil war, and economic dislocation that have grown worse and may be further exacerbated by impending climate change, Shelley concludes that the sale of human cargo has become and will remain a significant global scourge. In more than 1,100 notes, her work extensively cites as evidence hundreds of academic studies, press reports, research by anti-trafficking organizations, online sources, criminal justice statistics, and personal interviews in the field. Although drawing extensively on the anti-prostitution literature of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, Shelley offers a relatively balanced assessment of the ongoing controversy over legalization with regulation.

Two chapters in Part II on transnational organized crime and the business of human trafficking address the critical importance of profit and risk. Shelley did considerable research on how the economic decline resulting from the breakup of the Soviet Union facilitated the growth of a Russian mafia and a major increase in trafficking women from Eastern Europe. She offers general information about Japanese, Chinese, Albanian, and other major organized crime groups that have profited from trafficking, but little data or detail on how the different business models work.

Five chapters in Part III provide regional perspectives with a wealth of detail about specific cases drawn from media reports, web sites, anti-trafficking organizations and official government and intergovernmental organization documents. Shelley effectively shows the great variety of abuses in different parts of the world. She reasonably concludes that different anti-trafficking strategies must be employed based on local market conditions: "[T]here is no single strategy that will work in stemming the growth [End Page 896] of human trafficking. The enormous variations in the problem … mean that anti-trafficking successes in one region cannot easily be...


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