Book Review: The Locust Effect:
Why the End
of Poverty
Requires the
End of Violence

By: Bethany Jenkins

Do you go to work without wondering whether your boss is going to physically beat you? Do you send your daughter to school without fearing she will be raped? Do you go to sleep without worrying that looters will seize your land in the middle of the night?

“If you are reading this book in a state of reasonable security and peace without fear of being enslaved, imprisoned, beaten, raped, or robbed,” Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros write in The Locust Effect, “it is either the case that you are in a place of isolation far away from human beings, or you are the beneficiary of a system that is protecting you from the violent impulses of human beings that are around you.”

Haugen, founder of the International Justice Mission (IJM), and Boutros, federal prosecutor with the Department of Justice, think that violence is at the core of what it means to be poor. In fact, they argue, until we end “the common, everyday, predatory violence” that thrives among the global poor, even our best economic and humanitarian efforts to alleviate extreme poverty will come to naught.

Beneath the Surface 

The first part of the book—chapters 1 and 2—is emotionally challenging. It includes accounts of real victims of rape, forced labor, land seizure, and abusive police. Although these stories are not for the fainthearted, they provide a glimpse into “the vast, subterranean world of violence where the poor move and have their being.”

Haugen and Boutros say that we often miss this “terror beneath the surface” because it’s intentionally hidden. Violence has behind it “an intelligent, willful perpetrator who is working hard—frequently very hard—to hide it. Indeed, the actual act of violence is almost never seen by outsiders.” It’s not just the perpetrators, however, who conceal it; it’s the victims, too. Since their experiences are uniquely traumatic, they often feel ashamed, humiliated, violated, and degraded. “Paradoxically,” the co-authors lament, “the perpetrator and the victim end up sharing a powerful, reflexive inclination: They both want to hide it.”

Locust Effect 

Having shown their readers glimpses of violence, Haugen and Boutros begin the middle section of the book—chapters 3 through 9—with a history lesson. In 1875, a massive swarm of locusts attacked more than 200,000 square miles across the Midwest. They devoured entire fields of crops, leaving animals and people to die of starvation. The farmers’ work, the government’s grants, the neighbors’ assistance—none of these mattered when the locusts came. Talk of help from outsiders “seemed like a mocking.” The co-authors draw a parallel: “Likewise in our era, efforts to spur economic development and alleviate poverty among the poor in the developing world without addressing the forces of violence that destroy and rob them can ‘seem like a mocking.’”

In this middle section, Haugen and Boutros show how violence seeps into the broken parts of the justice system to poison even our best efforts at alleviating poverty. For example, many organizations are committed to building schools for girls. This is great, but girls in many parts of the developing world—even where there are school buildings—simply avoid school altogether because it’s “the most common place where sexual violence occurs.” Moreover, if a young girl is raped, there’s almost no chance her rapist will be prosecuted—either he will pay off the police, the prosecutor, or the judge, or the court will lack evidence to prosecute because, in many places, approved medical examiners are so rare that a victim cannot find one in time to administer a valid rape kit.

Glimpses of Hope 

The final part of the book—chapters 10 and 11—offers hope that something can be done. Although Haugen and Boutros admit that “building effective public justice systems in the developing world is costly, difficult, dangerous, and unlikely,” they give us glimpses of places that have already experienced major transitions in their justice systems. Also, they share stories where they have seen hints of success with IJM’s method of “structural transformation” through “collaborative casework.”

Haugen doesn’t mention that he “personally came to the human rights struggle out of a Christian conscience” until the last chapter. As a former political appointee at the Department of State, I think this approach is eminently wise and strategic. When I was at State, most of my colleagues did not share my Christian commitment, and if I had given them an unsolicited book about the gospel, it would have been professionally inappropriate. The Locust Effect, however, is materially different from many other books written by evangelicals. It’s both a high-quality professional resource and also a beautiful window into God’s heart. I wouldn’t have hesitated to give this book as a gift to all of my colleagues.

Also, as director of TGC’s Every Square Inch, I find this final section particularly compelling because it challenges the assumption that our work is divided into sacred and secular callings. By virtue of their unique access and specialized training, those involved in the law enforcement pipeline—lawyers, police officers, judges, wardens, parole officers—have unique opportunities to bear God’s image of love and justice in ways that others cannot. Their work points to the work of Christ, who was anointed to “proclaim good news to the poor” and “set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:16–21). For billions of the global poor, these are not metaphorical words. They are real and, by the grace of God through the work of abolitionists like Haugen and Boutros, they are possible.

To the Point 

I’ve been a supporter of IJM for years. In 2007, when I was in law school, I considered doing an internship in one of their field offices. Last year, I was on the benefit committee for their New York City gala. I’ve contributed financially to IJM, and I recently became a monthly donor.

Yet it almost seems silly to write a book review for The Locust Effect. Yes, it satisfies all the qualities of a great book—it’s well written, researched, organized, and so forth. To me, though, it’s more than a book. It’s an awakening, a call, a responsibility. It’s one of those things that you can’t just read; you have to do something. Because now you know.

Editors’ note: Not only do all author royalties for The Locust Effect go directly to the work of IJM, a generous donor has pledged to give $20 to IJM for each book purchased this week. You can order from Amazon or Hearts & Minds Bookstore (for a 20 percent discount).

[Note: This review was originally published HERE by The Gospel Coalition.]

Bethany L. Jenkins is the director of TGC’s Every Square Inch and the founder of The Park Forum. She previously worked on Wall Street and on Capitol Hill. She received her JD from Columbia Law School and attends Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, where she was a Gotham Fellow through the Center for Faith & Work.