Book Review: In Our Backyard

Continuing with the Social Passion Series, I reached for another book on human trafficking. Last time it was a standard about trafficking around the world, this time it was a book about trafficking in the US. In Our Backyard by Nita Belles was published in 2015, so it is still up-to-date, though specific facts may have had time to change (like website addresses or statistics). Overall, it is a great resource for learning about modern day slavery as it operates in the United States of America.

In an ideal world, everyone would be educated about modern slavery. In my perfect world, everyone would read at least one book on world slavery and one book on local slavery. So far, I can recommend books by Kevin Bales for trafficking on a global scale, and I would be happy to recommend In Our Backyard to educate people on trafficking in the US. It is not, perhaps, a perfect book and I have some suspicions about some of the numbers (though nearly everyone admits that numbers are difficult to come by in such a subversive element), but it would be great for people to read about the various scenarios that can and are happening in our backyard, in every city and town in America. It is also a very practical book, constantly reminding us what we can and can’t do to help or to get involved, giving us organizations, phone numbers, websites, etc.

Belles’ chapters could be read independent of each other, as she repeats a lot of information. It’s not super clear how the book is divided up, but it is full of stories that Belles has collected through her time in the field. From a boy who was abducted and trafficked over the border into a California neighborhood brothel, to a high school girl who was convinced by her new boyfriend to run away to a life of prostitution, from an immigrant man held prisoner, starving in a sub-standard trailer near a tomato farm where he was forced to work, to a mother-daughter duo who were coerced into the porn industry, it is appropriate to break down how modern day slavery has a number of different faces. Though there are patterns: children and teens; especially runaways; immigrants; foreigners looking for opportunity in America; large events (yes, like the Superbowl, but also others). These are all areas of vulnerability that criminals and abusers are waiting to exploit at the first opportunity. But Belles is also big on underlining that none of us or our children are 100% safe from exploitation, especially with criminals’ ubiquitous presence on the internet, but also in and around our high schools, events, etc.

Belles also repeats over and over that the victims are the victims. Too frequently, individuals who have been coerced or forced into trafficking/slavery are then treated as criminals and prosecuted for things such as prostitution, debt, illegal immigration status, etc. while their traffickers and “customers” are rarely prosecuted. Belles is personally working to change this reality as much as is in her power, but she also wants people to become educated about the reality of victimization and re-victimization. Her book is also about what part we—as average Americans—contribute to slavery. Consumption of goods, unharnessed consumerism, a blind eye, ignorance (and for some, pornography use or even sex tourism)… there are ways that we too are complicit in the victimization and abuse of others. It is possible that even those who participate in the sex industry, legally or otherwise, don’t understand that they are a cog in a terrible machine that is prone to—and indeed subsists on—exploitation. Knowledge is power. (Not that it’s all about sex trafficking and women. Belles given various other examples of trafficking in the US—domestic workers, indentured labor, migrant farmers, even in one case a children’s choir—but sex trafficking is a large slice of the pie.)

Belles chats about terminology, statistics, anecdotes, experiences, people doing good, victories and failures. Again, even though it’s not a perfect book, it’s a great book to learn about modern slavery in America and I would highly recommend it to anyone and everyone.

FREEDOM FIRM

During the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the anti-trafficking organizations that I have supported over the years reached out to me. They are trying a social media approach during the quarantine which involves “ambassadors” posting stories on their outlets once a month. I signed on. Last month, I posted Nadia’s story on my Facebook. This month, I am going to present you with Tina and Sayantika, friends who have been rescued from trafficking in India. Please consider giving their story a read. You can also purchase jewelry, scarves and bags from Freedom Firm (or just donate). This is an organization that I have not only followed over several years, but have been an active part of on a volunteer basis. I have met some of the rescued girls, workers, and leaders. This is a great organization to support.

Click on the photo to the left/above (or HERE) to read this month’s story. You can also purchase/donate from there.

QUOTES

Though I underlined a ton in this book, there weren’t as many quotables as straight-up info.

“When we see something that could be human trafficking, let’s report it to 1-888-373-7888 or text “HELP” to BeFree (233722)” (p97).

“But we can never lose sight of who is the perpetrator and who is the victim” (p201).

“The FBI determined nothing was wrong because they didn’t see any handcuffs or bruises on the boys” (p48).

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