Book Festival Author Confronts Human Trafficking

Virginia Festival of the Book

by Kelley Libby

Corban Addison

Corban Addison

Most of us learned in history class that slavery in the U.S. ended with the Thirteenth Amendment. But the trade in human beings—for sex and labor—is actually the fastest growing criminal industry in the world today, and it’s happening just below the surface of our everyday lives. One author on the lineup of this year’s Virginia Festival of the Book called attention to the injustices of modern-day slavery. The program was sponsored by LexisNexis.

Corban Addison is the author of A Walk Across the Sun. He’s also a lawyer. Standing before an audience of festival attendees at the University of Virginia Law School, he chose not to read selections from his book but to instead address the issue at the book’s core.

“The reality, sadly, is that the average age of entry into prostitution in the U.S. is 13 to 15,” Addison said, and the numbers are astounding. According to experts, profits in the international trade of human beings are estimated to reach nearly $91 billion. The profit margins, he said, far exceed the most profitable companies in the world, including Apple and Google. There are an estimated 21 to 27 million slaves in the world. Two million are children who are exploited in the commercial sex trade.

The reality, sadly, is that the average age of entry into prostitution in the U.S. is 13 to 15

“And when you’re confronted with this—the numbers of people involved,” said Addison, “it just doesn’t seem possible that we could find a way out of it.”

A Walk Across the Sun tells the story of two teenaged sisters in India, whose lives are upended when a tsunami strikes their coastal town and leaves them homeless and orphaned. On their way to seek shelter, they are abducted and sold to a Mumbai brothel. Their survival depends on a rescue, but ruthless criminals stand in the way.

In researching the book, Addison spent a month with a team from International Justice Mission (IJM), a human rights organization that rescues victims of slavery and sexual exploitation. He learned what drives the entire trade is money—demand for commercial sex.

“It comes from average clients,” he said. From guys who “look surprisingly and uncomfortably like me. And my dad. And my neighbor. And my pastor. And my friends.”

Addison said he believes sex trafficking can be defeated.

“Will we ever dry out prostitution entirely?” he asked. “Probably not. But can we make a seismic impact? I believe so. But it’s going to require, as history tells us, a massive effort, a social effort, a cultural effort that involves all of us, and not just the experts.”

Virginia Festival of the Book is a 5-day festival of mostly free literary events that are open to the public, honor book culture, and promote reading and literacy.