Summary and book reviews of A Crime So Monstrous by E. Benjamin Skinner

A Crime So Monstrous

Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery

By E. Benjamin Skinner

A Crime So Monstrous
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2008,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2009,
    352 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Book Summary

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.

Chapter One
The Riches of the Poor

For our purposes, let's say that the center of the moral universe is in Room S-3800 of the UN Secretariat, Manhattan. From here, you are some five hours from being able to negotiate the sale, in broad daylight, of a healthy boy or girl. Your slave will come in any color you like, as Henry Ford said, as long as it's black. Maximum age: fifteen. He or she can be used for anything. Sex or domestic labor are the most frequent uses, but it's up to you.

Before you go, let's be clear on what you are buying. A slave is a human being who is forced to work through fraud or threat of violence for no pay beyond subsistence. Agreed? Good. 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 ...

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Skinner quotes Josef Stalin as saying, "A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic." Accordingly, A Crime So Monstrous relates the experiences of individual slaves and slavery survivors. Their stories are affecting, the type of horrific examples you'd expect to encounter in a book of this nature. Skinner reports their accounts with a delicate touch, putting human faces on this horrendous practice.

The politics behind slavery is as much a part of Skinner's narrative as the human element. Skinner relates how difficult it was for modern-day abolitionists to get U.S. Government officials to even use the word "slavery" when discussing the subject.

When talking politics, Skinner primarily deals with U.S. policy, but does address situations and political climates in other nations that encourage slavery. Most often, the countries with the highest incidence of slavery won't even acknowledge the problem exists, let alone act on terminating the practice. Slavery is tacitly approved of in some cases as a subtle form of warfare. Anti-trafficking laws passed in some nations are at best ignored, and at worst punish the victims. Even those slaves who are manumitted often have no place to go; freedom in these cases being the freedom to starve. Skinner addresses these injustices with just the right tone. While it's obvious he's passionate about his subject, he writes with enough distance to prevent the book from being a tirade. He lets the facts speak for themselves.

The book is exceptionally well-written and eye-opening. It will keep most readers interested throughout, and will keep them thinking about the subject long after the book's completion.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review Members Only (1018 words).

Media Reviews
The Scotsman

This book bears witness at first-hand . . . a heartbreakingly important work.

Publishers Weekly

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.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. An impassioned exposé of a thriving slave economy in the world's poorest regions . . . An important, consciousness-raising book.

Author Blurb Elie Wiesel
In his book, Benjamin Skinner's powerful indictment of contemporary slavery must arouse outrage for perpetrators and compassion for their victims.

Author Blurb Bill Clinton
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.

Author Blurb U.S. Senator John McCain
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.

Author Blurb U.S. Senator Russ Feingold
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.

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Contemporary Slavery

On October 28, 2000, President Clinton signed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act into law. It charges the State Department to direct and sponsor programs that combat slavery. It also is responsible for evaluating the abolition efforts of any nation with more than 100 slaves.

One of the primary tools the State Department uses is an annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. It assigns each country one of three designations:

  • Tier 1: Those countries working hard and succeeding in eradicating slavery.
  • Tier 2: Countries working hard towards abolition, but failing.
  • Tier 3: Countries making no effort at all to curb slavery.

Non-trade sanctions will be enacted against Tier 3 countries if there has...

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