Book Review - Slavery Inc. The Untold Story of International SexTrafficking

Lydia Cacho, the Mexican writer and women's rights activist, has endured intimidation, abduction and imprisonment because of her investigative journalism. Following the publication of Los demonios del Edén (The demons of Eden), an exposé of a Mexican child pornography ring in Cancún in 2005, she was tortured, judicially harassed and suffered numerous death threats.

This has not deterred her from continuing to write about the complicity of business men and other powerful people in criminal activities. Her latest book focuses on global sex trafficking. Such are the dangers of investigating this appalling trade in human beings that Cacho was forced undercover. She carried fake ID and dressed as a prostitute in order to infiltrate various nightclubs; on one occasion, she adopted a nun’s habit to enter La Merced, one of Mexico City’s most dangerous neighbourhoods.

Cacho’s research took her to Burma, Cambodia, Japan, Thailand and Turkey as well as Latin America. She concludes that it is the “inequality of cultures, economies and legal systems” that has helped this modern slavery to thrive. Cacho argues that the exploitation of women and children occurs because of their vulnerability – whether because of poverty or their subservient role in a male-dominated society – and because of weak sanctions against their mistreatment. Victims are often “enslaved by the cultural values of violence against women” or conditioned to believe that they have no alternatives.

Importantly, Cacho focuses on the clients who not only fuel demand but also contribute towards the normalisation of sexual slavery. Time and again she is told by men that they like Latin American women because they are “docile” and “obedient.” It is the clients who create the markets, Cacho argues, and men's increasing willingness to pay for sex with trafficked victims is part of the backlash against women’s liberation. Even more devastating is the burgeoning trade in children and virgins. Cacho sees this as a means for men to exert control emotionally and mentally as well as physically; the younger the victim, the more compliant he or she is likely to be.

Cacho says that those who defend prostitution as “part of a liberal philosophy” ignore “the connection between trafficking and prostitution”, and that those who are enslaved, either through poverty or coercion, are not willing participants.

This courageous book comes with an introduction by Roberto Saviano who wrote a best-selling exposé of the Camorra Mafia in Naples. Both writers have faced terrible consequences for daring to point the finger at powerful men. Cacho has named names and further death threats have caused her to flee Mexico. She’s risked her life in order to report the truth.

Originally published in The Tablet.