A Swarm of Locusts

[Giving up Violence for Lent]

For decades the Western world has rightly (though insufficiently, often clumsily and sometimes to the detriment of communities) turned its attention to the plight of the billions of people who lack the access to resources they need to survive with a moderate level of well being, and have poured massive investment into relief and development. This has looked like food, clean water, housing, public health, education, jobs, loans and other forms of economic development. Yet for all of the resources, all the research and investment, little has been done to confront what may be the greatest issue facing those who live in poverty: the sea of violence that descends like locusts on those who don’t have the resources to protect and defend themselves, and who lack a criminal justice system that works on their behalf.

LocustsThis is the assertion Gary Haugen (of International Justice Mission) and Victor Boutros make in their new book, The Locust Effect. In support of this claim is a stunning breadth of research that unmasks the violence faced by victims of human trafficking, bonded labor, land theft, and police brutality. It is a violence that goes unchecked because, as violent perpetrators know, the criminal justice systems are either extremely inept and unconcerned with those who are poor as to be rendered completely useless, or they can be bought and become themselves the main source of violence against those already abused and marginalized.

the locust effectThe stories of what victims face in police stations, courtrooms, or pre-trial prisons (where they may languish for years before going to trial) are infuriating and the statistics  of how rampant this violence is across the globe are overwhelming. Here is just one statistic: “The ILO [International Labor Organization] has estimated that there are about 2.3 million women and girls held in forced prostitution in India alone.” (58) It’s probably because I am currently in India and just spent time hanging out with some of those 2.3 million women whom I know by name, but that number turns over in my head like a mantra. 2.3 million. It’s staggering. And it is a fraction of the violence gone ignored – or exacerbated – by the under-resourced, corrupt and incompetent criminal justice systems around the world.

The Locust Effect doesn’t just describe the problem – which it does with great detail – but dives into the history of why these systems exist (finding roots in colonial justice systems), why they persist (the wealthy and powerful elites benefit from the current system), and what steps can be done to break into the systems of violence. Haugen admits that they don’t know all that needs to be done (because not enough has been tried), but they share examples of hope (historical and present-day) that provide steps forward to bolster criminal justice systems to benefit and protect those in severe poverty.

A version of this review appeared first at The Salt Collective.

photo credit: Shovelling Son via photopin cc

 

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