In Our Backyard
Reviewed by Robyn Hubbard
Nita Belles' call-to-arms, In Our Backyard: A Christian Perspective on Human Trafficking in the United States, demands our attention. This tenacious exposé of modern-day slavery is hard to face but even harder to put down. Belles' easy storytelling style belies the fact that she will topple defenses and break hearts with unrelenting accounts of crimes against humanity that occur right in our communities. She bangs on our carefully locked doors to warn us that people are being deceived, captured, tortured, and sold as commodities—all within our reach.
Belles' well-researched, practical guidebook for fighting trafficking in all its heinous forms requires a response. First step, examine heart and wallet for desires and habits that contribute to enslavement of unsuspecting people on American and foreign soil. The pursuit of low-cost goods results in a heavy price paid by slave laborers, who are rounded up in order to supply our demand. Products boasting "Made in America" labels are often stained with the blood of victims.
The migrant farm workers who provide our grocers with fresh produce are often trapped in debt bondage, forced to pay absurd sums to captors who had promised them jobs in the United States. Held captive through deceit and physical abuse, once-hopeful workers spend excessive hours laboring to pay back a mounting "debt" for their passage into the US under threat of being turned in to authorities for illegal entry. Belles decries the coercion of a multitude of foreign-born service workers, often in American restaurants and hotels—businesses that become hotbeds of forced labor when companies turn to "employment agencies" to fill positions inexpensively. She offers viable ideas on how to demand that businesses offer goods without a trace of slave labor on the production line.
Sex trafficking has long been considered a foreign problem, and only recently have American citizens begun awakening to the fact that our neighborhoods host slave markets where children are on the block. Within 48 hours on the street, one in three runaway minors (age 11-14) is lured into sexual exploitation by a trafficker promising food, shelter, and love. High school girls are, unsuspectingly, "dating" and "falling in love" with young men who are grooming them for the sex trade.
Belles educates readers in the cruel strategy of traffickers, its mind-altering effect on their victims, and the demand for services that feed the multibillion-dollar sex trade. She equips us to recognize the signs of trafficking in our community, the critical factor in exposing this crime. Quoting Frederick Douglass—"Slavery is one of those monsters of darkness to whom the light of truth is death"—she provides clear steps we can take towards effective light-shedding action. End-of-chapter questions make the book a good choice for a small group study.
Nita Belles exhorts Christians to relinquish self-protective thinking and to embrace the call of Christ to break the bonds of oppression. "There is nothing the criminals … recruiters, the traffickers, the pimps…want more than for decent people to remain ignorant of what they do. All they ask is that we do nothing. Simple silence. If the myth that 'it doesn't happen here' can prevail, they have won."
Commit to read this book. Find your voice—and then use it.
Robyn Hubbard works with at-risk kids in the foster care system in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley.