The Crime-Poverty Connection

12_locust_book_JNBook Review by Doug Priest

The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence
Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014

The Locust Effect made me extremely angry. I seethed with righteous indignation for the entire first half of the volume.

Gary Haugen is the founder of International Justice Mission, an international human rights agency that provides service to “impoverished victims of violent abuse and oppression in the developing world.” His book begins with several gut-wrenching illustrations of injustice in the majority world. From Yuri, the small Peruvian child who was raped and left bloodied in the street while her assailants paid off the court and went scot-free, to the Indian family enslaved by a small debt who, children and all, break up large rocks into gravel while their debt gets larger year after year and who are beaten near to death by the police if they try to escape.

With emphasis given to sex trafficking, enslavement (forced labor), the poor being forced off their land, the prevalence of violence, human rights, and the incompetency of the police and the courts, the book’s central thesis is that unless we intentionally focus on criminal injustice, our efforts to ease or eradicate poverty will be unsuccessful—“endemic to being poor is a vulnerability to violence, or the way violence is right now, catastrophically crushing the global poor.”

Though I have spent many years of my life living in the majority world, and an equal number of years directing holistic ministry efforts among the world’s poor, I will admit I had not made the link between the ongoing crushing poverty and criminal injustice. The agency with which I work has successful ministries in digging wells and providing clean water, preventative medicine, health clinics, child sponsorship, microfinance, church planting, and ministerial training. But we have never had ministries to better equip or train the police, provide scholarships or books to lawyers and judges, or publicly to confront the structural sins of the justice systems where we work.

Without changing the criminal justice system, all of our well-intentioned efforts can be completely wiped out, as can happen when a plague of locusts goes through. Today’s missions buzzwords—development, empowerment, sustainability—mean little if there is not an underlying foundation of justice.


Effecting Change

It is only in the second half of the book, where Haugen and Victor Boutros begin to share some actual case studies of efforts to address injustice, that I began to see the faintest glimmer of hope. With a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, sex trafficking was greatly reduced in Cebu City, Philippines.

“But,” as the authors state, “there is no silver bullet.” An old Indian man who had devoted his life to studying the law was asked why the police and the court systems don’t provide justice for the common person. He replied, it is because the justice system was not designed for that. The system was established during colonial times to protect the wealthy and the country’s resources for the elite, not to provide justice for the poor.

Indeed, effecting change will be like emptying an Olympic-sized swimming pool one cup at a time.

More than a century ago, the police forces in cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Tokyo were completely corrupt. Today they are not. The value of The Locust Effect is highlighting an issue and raising consciousness. Do not neglect this book. The more who are aware, the more will be called to do something.


This review first appeared in the journal Missio Dei.

Doug Priest is executive director of CMF International and a contributing editor to CHRISTIAN STANDARD.

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1 Comment

  1. Patricia
    December 26, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    I have worked the past 10 years for an International Development agency. Your statement – “Today’s missions buzzwords—development, empowerment, sustainability—mean little if there is not an underlying foundation of justice.” is very true. If we all pick up and use our cups, the swimming pool won’t seem as big.

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