10 Essential Human Trafficking Reads

By Amanda Kloer 

More books and articles are being published about human trafficking each year.  These are 10 of my favorites, all of which have been published this decade. 

Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy by Kevin Bales (2004)

Maybe it’s because this book quite literally changed my life (I was a corporate advertising student before I read it), but if you read one human trafficking book this year, let this one be it.  Bales masterfully weaves narratives of former trafficking victims in with statistics and global trends.  It’s compelling and juicy, and unlike a lot of other reads in this genre, you will walk away feeling empowered.  This is an excellent book.  I own multiple copies, and sometimes I hug them.   

Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade and How We Can Fight It by David Batstone (2007)

Batstone was a well-known journalist before he became an anti-trafficking advocate, and Not For Sale shows his experience.  He does a great job of telling the story of the new abolitionist movement.  The book is well-planned, accessible and acts as a great call to action. 

Prostitution, Trafficking, and Traumatic Stress by Melissa Farley (2003)

Anyone who has ever seen Pretty Woman should read this book.  Farley dispels the popular myth that prostitution is empowering for women and that “sex work” is healthy labor.  Farley achieves a rare balance of passion and scholarship in this much under-researched field.  So read this book, and then leave it strategically outside a massage parlor or prostitution zone in your town.  Maybe someone who really needs to read it will pick it up….      

Human Trafficking Evokes Outrage, Little Evidence by Jerry Markon (2007)

It was the Washington Post article heard (and cringed at) ‘round the abolitionist world!  While I vehemently disagree with several of the points Markon makes, he said what a lot of people were thinking then and what possibly more are thinking now.  This article raises some tough issues the anti-trafficking community faces, including unreliable statistics and low identification rates.     

2008 Trafficking in Persons Report by the U.S. State Department (2008)

This isn’t much of a holiday beach read, but the State Department didn’t set out to write a page turner.  They have, however, pulled together a stellar amount of information, with more stories and graphics than you’d expect from a government report.  The TIP Report is the best snapshot of what the U.S. government thinks is happening in trafficking around the world.  And what the U.S. government thinks matters.  

A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face With Modern Slavery by Benjamin E. Skinner (2008)

Equal parts Magnum P.I. and Anthony Bourdain (if you replace “restaurant” with “brothel”), journalist Benjamin Skinner has written a fascinating travelogue of global sex trafficking and sex tourism.  The text is unafraid and unapologetic in its raw depiction of the horrific and prolific nature of this global crime.   

Captive Teenage Cousins Suffer Crash Course in Forced Sex Trade by Robin Erb and Roberta de Boer

Unfortunately, there are a number of newspaper articles about American kids being abducted/lured/tricked into sex trafficking.  This particular one, part of a three piece series by the Toledo Blade, is especially useful and powerful because it demonstrates a.) sex trafficking happens in Toledo, Ohio (not exactly what folks think of as a hotbed of moral turpitude); b.) one of the traffickers/pimps was a woman (which happens not infrequently) and  c.) the victims were English-speaking American teens, abducted and sold in the same part of the country.    

Sex Trafficking: The Global Market in Women and Children by Kathryn Farr (2005)

Farr’s book is well-written and well-researched.  However, its particular strengths are in its willingness to address the role the military plays in sex trafficking and the economics of the industry.  This book would be especially helpful to anyone writing a thesis on global sex trafficking.   

With These Hands by Daniel Rothenberg (2000)

There are many more books and articles written about people trafficked into prostitution than into agricultural labor, for one reason because sex (even abusive sex) sells.  However, exploitation is rampant for migrant workers in America. While not specifically a trafficking book, With These Hands thoroughly documents farm labor in America and deftly demonstrates the ease with which trafficking and exploitation can occur.   

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (2004)

Margaret Atwood is, in my not-a-literary-critic’s opinion, the most talented living novelist and poet.  Her dystopian, post-apocalyptic stories offer us a glimpse of where society is headed if we continue commoditizing human beings, especially women.  Many of her books have similar messages, butOryx and Crake especially revolves around themes of child abuse, child sex trafficking and the sale of persons, and it examines the idea that when people become property they cease to be people.   This novel is also a superb example of how art can further social justice.     



4 responses to “10 Essential Human Trafficking Reads

  1. Hi Amanda,
    Thank you for your very kind words about my book Disposable People, it may have started you off, but your great work is so important. Meanwhile, I would love to add a book to your list – Ending Slavery: How We Free Today’s Slaves. This book explains how we will end slavery for good over the next 25 years, essential reading for all abolitionists. You can get it almost anywhere and from our website: http://www.freetheslaves.net.

    If you send me a mailing address via info@freetheslaves.net, I would be happy to send you a copy.
    Warm wishes
    Kevin Bales

  2. Kevin,

    Thanks so much for the post. I will your message onto Amanda.


  3. Please check out my film “Happy Endings?”, I followed the legal prostitution in Asian massage parlors in RI. Prostitution is legal in RI.

  4. Happy Endings DC brings out the question, does legalized prostitution help or hurt Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation. What are your views?

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