In Our Backyard: A Christian Perspective on Human Trafficking in the United States (Book Review)

I love it when I get free books. It definitely brightens my day when someone values my opinion enough to allow me to review their book and truly believes that I will be touched or motivated by their work. In every book I read, I love when it incites action or emotional response.

Our Backyard: A Christian Perspective on Human Trafficking in the United States by Nita Belles soundly accomplishes both of those objectives. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I am devoutly non-religious. I stand by my atheism, but have never questioned the valid need for social care-taking that is a part of religion and church communities. While this book is framed within a Christian context, it is a collection of good information on domestic human trafficking.

While I wasn’t very impressed with the simplicity of the narrative and the overall smoothness of the writing, I understood that it was written by a woman who felt an overwhelming passion to pass on this accumulation of information through a number of case studies within this issue. There are a variety of heart-wrenching, highly emotional cases with the book that spread the vast continuum of human trafficking victims in the United States from child prostitution to forced labor to even international musicians.

I have always loved non-fiction books that draw from case studies, giving detailed and specific examples of the context the author is trying to create. There is something about a narrative story within the pages of something thoroughly non-fiction that draws me in even more than a novel. There are some wonderful examples, like Gary Small’s The Other Side of the Couch: a Psychiatrist Solves His Most Unusual Cases and anything by Mary Roach (think: Stiff: the curious Lives of Human Cadavers and Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex), but there was something missing in Ms. Belles’ book. While the cases themselves were heart-wrenching, the telling of them was lacking. I left each case study feeling emotionally and intellectually unsatisfied.

There were two stories that did pique my curiosity though. The first was of Given Kachepa. A boy from Zambia, who had been recruited by missionaries to come to the United States and join the Zambian Acapella Boys Choir. The name of the choir sounded familiar. This choir had been based just north of where I grew up. I remembered hearing advertisements growing up for their local performances. These children were locked away with few of the needs being met. They were forced to perform for no pay or be sent back home in disgrace. While I was struck by the story because suddenly this really was in my very own backyard, but that it was not something that I would have traditionally thought of as human trafficking. This book did open me up to seeing more of the continuum of what human trafficking can be.

The other story that struck me was at the beginning of chapter seven, “Why Victims Stay.” If you know anything about me, you should immediately understand why I found this interesting. In the world of domestic violence, which I know all together too much about, the explanation of why a victim stays is one of the hardest things to explain sometimes and crops up all the time. The chapter is introduced with the story of two women being held hostage in a bank robbery and how they began to exhibit Stockholm Syndrome. However, I hesitate to link Stockholm Syndrome to cases of domestic violence. I think it is something much more simple and a base instinct for survival.

Also, each chapter of this book is concluded by a list of discussion questions. I found this quite unnecessary, but it does make me wonder under what context this book was intended to be read.  It might be best for an introductory seminar on human trafficking and perhaps the open discussion forum is what was missing from my experience reading the book.

Suffice to say, I would recommend reading in a group, possibly a Sunday School-type setting, and for it to be followed up with a call to action for the group on how to tackle the problem of domestic violence in their own backyards and how to raise awareness for others. I’m a little disappointed because this book had some excellent potential, but missed the mark for me individually.

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