Book offers insight into pressing issue of slavery in U.S.

Since the explosive renewal of slavery in the 1990s, dozens of authors have tried to raise public awareness about the problem. A new book in this discourse, The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today, by Kevin Bales and Ron Soodalter, deserves particular note because it has a few special qualities.

The statistics of modern slavery can be startling. Most experts place the number of slaves entering the United States each year between 15,000 and 20,000, a number that roughly reflects the yearly number of homicides. Estimates of currently enslaved U.S. citizens vary more widely. Former head of the Department of Health and Human Services trafficking office Steve Wagner estimated that there are currently between 200,000 and 400,000 U.S. citizens enslaved in this country, in anything from agriculture to the sex trade. Despite these numbers, last year, only about 110 people were successfully prosecuted for their involvement in the slave trade in the United States.

The first half of The Slave Next Door presents these statistics and a detailed description of the context of modern slavery in the U.S. This part is further divided into chapters, one for each of the major forms of slavery, including domestic, agricultural, and sex slavery. An additional chapter describes the variety of other, less common examples of slavery.

Throughout these chapters, Bales and Soodalter also identify many reasons that slavery remains largely invisible to those who do not look for it. For example, they suggest that recent innovations in the slave trade, such as less obvious forms of coercion and misdirection, have played a major role in enabling the return of slavery since the ’90s. Increasing reliance on psychological coercion makes it more difficult to recognize and prosecute slave holders, since psychological coercion is often nothing more than a holder’s careful control of information such that the slave is more afraid of the police and the outside world than of the slaveholder.

The second half of the book is more unique. It is devoted to all of the ways that slavery is, is not, and should be challenged. Bales and Soodalter analyze the response to slavery at the local, state, and federal levels of government, with a chapter devoted to each. The authors identify many institutional reasons that slavery still survives, and what can be done by individuals to help. Bales and Soodalter describe not only how best to educate police but also the necessary roles of lawyers, officials, congressmen intellectuals, and the public at large. This information is eminently useful to anyone interested in fighting slavery, and is difficult to find anywhere else.

Unfortunately, The Slave Next Door is not as smoothly written as some of its rivals, such as Benjamin Skinner’s A Crime so Monstrous. Sentences, paragraphs, and the book itself are all much longer than they need to be, so readers will find themselves slogging though page-long paragraphs and redundant language more often than would be ideal.

However, the writing should be seen as a small flaw in an important book. The first half of The Slave Next Door is a fair and detailed introduction to the modern permutation of slavery. The second half has so much valuable information that it would prove helpful even for those who have read extensively about modern slavery. On the whole, The Slave Next Door is worth the time of anyone interested in fighting or at least understanding the slave trade in the United States today.