Monday, October 13, 2014

Book Review: Made in the USA by Alisa Jordheim

Most people think I'm a little unconventional. They ask me why I travel the nations to walk the "red light" districts, why I attend court regularly in support of kids giving testimony against their traffickers, and why I'm writing about this horrific issue. The answer: I'm compelled. Compelled to make a difference. And most importantly, compelled to make you aware that this crime is real and is likely happening on your campus and in your neighborhood this very minute. - Alisa Jordheim, Made in the USA

I remember the first time I heard statistics about sex trafficking in the United States. Several years ago, a report was released listing some of the top hub cities where people are pulled into "the life." Several big cities such as Atlanta and Houston were listed, and 4th on the list: Toledo, Ohio.

There were two things about this revelation that surprised me. First, Toledo doesn't seem on par with the other cities on the list. Atlanta and Houston are major metropolises, and Toledo by comparison is puny. Perhaps its somewhat off-the-radar status makes it more appealing for traffickers. Second, Toledo is, in a way, my backyard. Its closeness was jarring. Sex trafficking so close to where I live? Incredible.

I didn't know the half of it. Far from it, in fact. Alisa Jordheim's Made in the USA makes it clear that the luring or coercing of children into commercial sexual exploitation happens much closer to me than Toledo; much closer to you than whatever semblance of a large city may be close by.

The heart of the book is five different accounts of children taken into such exploitation. One is coerced by family members, another by a boyfriend, a few by people who first earn trust by posing as friends. Each story is meant to illustrate the varying ways one is forced into sexual slavery. While informative, the stories themselves can be painful to read. These are instances that can happen in any neighborhood, in any house, in any family, in any school.

What I found most shocking was the callousness of the traffickers; how seemingly easy it was to abuse children--even relatives--into such a life. The jarring nature of these stories; their bluntness and the way they show so well how this can happen even in the most unassuming places, is what gives this book its power. It would be one thing to present a series of statistics, aid organizations, and tips for identifying behavior (which it also does), but to actually read and hear survivors' voices is to humanize what those other tactics wouldn't be able to do.

The book is written in a very easy style, the accounts sometimes recounted by Jordheim and sometimes by the victims. They convey the pain and fear that these survivors feel without resorting to unnecessary dramatic flourish or emotional manipulation. The stories are impactful enough and don't need to rely on such things for the reader to understand the experiences shared.

For those seeking a better idea of the extent of sex trafficking in the United States; for those wishing to become more aware of how such commercial exploitation happens much closer to home than many realize; for those hoping to understand the tactics involved and what to watch for in one's own community, Made in the USA gives an accessible introduction. The accounts can be difficult to read and a shock to the system, but truly, that's what many of us need to be able to see the problem.

(I was sent a free copy of this book to review by the Speakeasy blogging book review network. My opinions are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)