Thoughts on Gary Haugen’s “The Locust Effect”


Over 2 billion people live on less than 2 dollars a day. If you doubled the population of the United States you would have the number of people who live on less than a dollar a day. As Gary Haugen points out, if you are reading The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence (Oxford, 2013) or are reading this blog, you are not likely to be a member of the extreme poor. And if you aren’t a member of the extreme poor you probably wish you could do something to improve the lives of the most impoverished. The poor need clean water, food, housing, jobs, affordable healthcare, and education among other things.

But Haugen says all of those needs pale to a greater need: the need to stop the plague of “lawless violence.”

Opportunities for education, jobs, healthcare, quality food and water will evaporate or will not be accessed if poor do not have protection from violent forces–security, law enforcement, and a just judiciary.

The book challenges the reader to stay with the problem of poverty and violence as it travels across the globe to recount story after story of vulnerable men, women, and children whose governments fail to (a) protect them from sexual violence, bonded labor, property theft, and (b) defend them or seek justice after becoming prey. Frankly, it would be easy to either turn away from this problem since it is too large for anyone to solve or to just keep offering some form of help (food, water, job creation–all of which are needed and good!) without confronting the epidemic of violence.

Sexual Violence

There are many forms of violence a poor person can face. Their livelihood, home, and communities can be destroyed. But sexual violence doesn’t just take those things but also eviscerates the soul. Haugen recounts that in some locations as many as 68 percent of girls report experiences of sexual abuse. Some 6 to 11 million individuals are trapped in the sex trafficking industry. Some 1 billion women are known victims of sexual abuse. For most readers, this is not new news.

But consider for a minute that somewhere’s between 6 and 50 million people (Haugen tells us to read that as MEN) pay for sex each day. Remember that buying sex is likely supporting violence (pimps, prior sexual abuse, etc.). Look at the problem of sexual violence a different way–the percentage of men who have EVER paid for sex ranges from 15 percent to 85 percent (depending upon the country).

Sit with that number for a bit. You want to stop sexual violence? Yes, we need law enforcement willing to investigate and charge sex offenders. Yes, we need a judiciary system willing to provide justice through convictions and sentencing. But, if we really want to stop sexual violence, we have to deal with demand side of the equation.

Trauma the Multiplier of Violence and Poverty

Gary’s book addresses some of the colonial roots of violence in the developing world (i.e., government and law enforcement built for the ruling/colonial class, not for the local population). While I have not finished the book, I’m wondering about how he sees the impact of trauma on this whole problem. As most recognize, traumatized people tend towards learned helplessness and thus are much more vulnerable to future violent acts against them. And Haugen acknowledges this problem, if briefly (pp 105-106). He identifies the fact that “unrestrained violence” leads to traumatic reactions that will hinder the capacities to take advantage of available resources.

While all true, the problem of trauma is likely causing problems not just for the vulnerable poor but also effecting the entire system (police, judiciary, and government). Trauma often causes individuals to stop thinking of the future. Instead, individuals make impulsive, self-protective decisions that may hinder future opportunities (e.g., drug use stops triggers but harms future health). The same can be true of systems (bribery to survive now, but destructive to safety and stability.

The book ends with a number of ways to address the problem of global violence so make sure you read to the end. But I encourage you to think about ways to respond to BOTH trauma and faith deficits. Check out the work the Trauma Healing Institute as an example of grassroots, lay level response to these two problems.

1 Comment

Filed under Abuse, trauma, Violence

One response to “Thoughts on Gary Haugen’s “The Locust Effect”

  1. Thanks, Phil. The numbers of men that pay for sex each day is staggering. Add those who don’t pay and yet are sexually abusing women and girls and the mind goes numb. Your comment about dealing with the demand side is spot on. Yet, in my reading the emphasis mostly is on empowering women and gender equality with little attention to the fact that if men are the main problem then they have to be included in the solution. It is sad that there is little thinking on “male” side of the problem.
    There are some churches here in Nairobi who are starting to take men’s ministry seriously to help raise up a generation of godly men. I am thankful because for too long the church here in Kenya has been silent on these issues.

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