An Epidemic of Violence: The Locust Effect

Gary Haugen is civil rights lawyer. He is influential in the fight against global poverty, slavery and corruption. He is a giant killer, a witness of unspeakable atrocities and an advocate for the reformation of public systems of justice. A conversation about global poverty that does not include the problem of violence,” he says, “must be deemed not serious.


Globally, there were 35 million people enslaved when Gary shared this message to a TED audience in 2015. Today the number has risen to 40 million. Wherever people are made vulnerable they become the prey of predatory groups or individuals. They are easy targets. The fortunate may escape and seek safety in other nations but most are enslaved in merciless endless servitude, often for generations. It is important to connect the dots and understand that refugees, the homeless and others made vulnerable in our own communities are also prey.


Gary Haugen is a hero of mine. I first discovered his work through his book, Good News About Injustice. He wrote of his time as Director of the United Nations investigation in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide; a surreal life. One day he could be standing over a mass grave, the next commuting to work aboard a Washington DC train among people oblivious to all but their daily grind. As CEO and founder of International Justice Mission (IJM) he is involved in the work of locating and retrieving stolen children and, where possible, works with authorities to bring down corrupt border officials, police, judges etc. Impressive as that is, there is more. A liberated factory is turned into a cooperative owned by those formerly enslaved. Facing down violent and aggressive people, is a regular occurrence in his line of work.


What is The Locust Effect? It is a violent plague. Violence descends upon the poor like a plague, destroying everything he says. When you survey poverty stricken communities, residents will tell you that their greatest fear is violence … not the violence of genocide or wars… they fear everyday violence.


Gary recounts the story of a widow named Venus who was forced to watch her son die. We were doing fine, she told him, until Brutus started to cause trouble. The day after her husband died, Brutus, her neighbour, threw Venus and her children out of their house and robbed their market stall. Venus, Gary says, was thrown into destitution by violence.


And then a moment of revelation. it occurred to me, of course, that none of my child sponsorships, none of the micro-loans I had paid for, none of the traditional anti-poverty programs were going to stop Brutus, because they weren't meant to.


An event in South Asia reinforced this understanding.


I could drive past this rice mill and see this man hoisting these 100-pound sacks of rice upon his thin back. But I would have no idea, until later, that he was actually a slave, held by violence in that rice mill since I was in high school. Decades of anti-poverty programs right in his community were never able to rescue him or any of the hundred other slaves from the beatings and the rapes and the torture of violence inside the rice mill. In fact, half a century of anti-poverty programs have left more poor people in slavery than in any other time in human history.


As a lawyer his first response was to seek to change all the laws… to make violence against the poor illegal. But then he found out it already is. The problem is not that the poor don't get laws, it's that they don't get law enforcement.


What if there was no law enforcement to protect you?


Can we relate to the vulnerability of those who are without protectors?


In Bolivia, if a man sexually assaults a poor child, statistically, he's at greater risk of slipping in the shower and dying than he is of ever going to jail for that crime.


In South Asia, if you enslave a poor person, you're at greater risk of being struck by lightning than ever being sent to jail for that crime.


And so the epidemic of everyday violence just rages on.


Violence devastates our efforts to try to help billions of people out of their two-dollar-a-day hell. Because the data just doesn't lie. It turns out that you can give all manner of goods and services to the poor, but if you don't restrain the hands of the violent bullies from taking it all away, you're going to be very disappointed in the long-term impact of your efforts.


…Now the truth is, the traditional experts in economic development and poverty alleviation, don't know how to fix this problem. And so what happens? They don't talk about it. But the more fundamental reason that law enforcement for the poor in the developing world is so neglected, is because the people inside the developing world, with money, don't need it. … the rich can pay for safety and can keep getting richer, but the poor can't pay for it and they're left totally unprotected and they keep getting thrown to the ground.


In conlusion


We have to start making stopping violence indispensable to the fight against poverty. In fact, any conversation about global poverty that doesn't include the problem of violence must be deemed not serious.



My take-home encouragement from this video comes from Gary’s own informed words. Broken law enforcement can be fixed. Violence can be stopped. Almost all criminal justice systems start out broken and corrupt, but they can be transformed by fierce effort and commitment.




Gary Haugen is CEO and founder of International Justice Mission. Before founding IJM in 1997, Gary was a human rights attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, where he focused on crimes of police misconduct. In 1994, he served as the Director of the United Nations’ investigation in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide. In this role, he led an international team of lawyers, criminal prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and forensics experts to gather evidence that would eventually be used to bring the perpetrators of the genocide to justice.

Gary has been recognized by the U.S. State Department as a Trafficking in Persons “Hero” – the highest honor given by the U.S. government for anti-slavery leadership. His work to protect the poor from violence has been featured by Foreign Affairs, The New York Times, the New Yorker, The Times of India, Forbes, U.S. News and World Report, the Guardian and National Public Radio, among many other outlets. He is the author of several books, including Good News About Injustice (Intervarsity Press) and, most recently, The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence (Oxford University Press).

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