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Reviewed by:
  • Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Day Slavery
  • Vanessa Bouché (bio)
Siddharth Kara, Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Day Slavery (Columbia University Press 2009), 298 pages, ISBN 9780231139601.

I. Introduction

Siddharth Kara's book is a welcome addition to the thin literature on the international enterprise of sex trafficking—a form of modern day slavery. There is no question that this book will become the "go-to" resource for anti-trafficking researchers and activists both inside and outside governmental and international bodies. Kara's research is thorough, employing both quantitative and qualitative methods from a myriad of sources, and his prose is eloquent, provoking readers to tears, rage, and even sometimes laughter.1

Kara brilliantly captures the complexity of the issue not only with the vast amount of data he brings to bear, but also through his stylistic techniques. On one axis, he narrates journeys, both his own and those of victims and survivors. On the other axis, he provides context in the form of historical, cultural, and economic analysis. This literary style is highly effective. By interweaving first and third person narrative with socioeconomic context, Kara personalizes and internationalizes sex trafficking, painting this form of slavery as relatively basic in some ways, yet highly complex in others.

II. Narrative

A. Personal Narrative

With respect to his personal stories, Kara shares his perilous—and sometimes thrilling—research experiences. These include being chased by thugs on Falkland Road,2 being intimidated by the border patrol's semiautomatic Uzis at the Moldovan-Transdniestr border,3 becoming intoxicated after meeting a victim in a brothel in Thailand,4 chopping down rainforest [End Page 899] with machetes in Burma,5 and spying at Vlora harbor in Albania.6 These and other exploits keep readers on the edge of their seats. Kara also details his thoughts and feelings with brutal honesty. At various points, he wanted "the heads of those men on a platter,"7 questioned cultural mores,8 felt "ashamed to be male,"9 and acknowledged internal conflict about complicated moral decisions.10 Kara's courage to conduct such dirty and dangerous fieldwork with such emotional transparency is inspiring and laudable.

B. Victim Narrative

In addition to his own narrative, Kara shares the stories of numerous victims and survivors of the sex trade. From virtually every region and country he explored, Kara documents real-life testimonials from women of different ages, religions, ethnicities, races, and nationalities who have been brutalized, abused, drugged, raped, and sold. The victims' stories personalize the crime for the readers, eliciting both compassion and outrage. Kara often posed as a buyer as a means to gain access to victims, and he also interviewed survivors in shelters. Both modes of data gathering, albeit controversial, exemplify Kara's commitment to fully understand the multiplicity of factors that brought these victims to this place of exploitation. He also does an exceptional job demonstrating to skeptics why trafficked women are victims, not criminals. This truth destroys the reasoning by which the public and law enforcement have justified their apathy, and also helps readers understand how this misconception has caused victims to distrust law enforcement and refuse to comply with investigations.

III. Context

A. Historical/Cultural Context

Kara also provides an impressive level of context that sets the backdrop for how and why this illicit industry thrives. At one end of this contextual axis is history and culture. In every chapter, Kara provides some historical context for the sex trafficking plague in that country. From the Rana dynasty in Nepal that gained power in 184611 to Albania's history of occupation that ultimately led to economic despair,12 Kara melds the past with the present, illustrating that this evil did not spring up overnight and must be understood in the context of a country's historical legacy.

Similarly, Kara documents some of the most endemic cultural factors that allow the sex trafficking industry to flourish. Among the most basic, and common, is deeply entrenched misogyny. Kara states: "Millions of women [live] in a world that overwhelmingly disdain[s] them."13 Upwards of 500,000 female fetuses in rural India are aborted per year.14 The women in [End Page...


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pp. 899-906
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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