Published: December 2008/January 2009Best of Adventure: Adventurers of the Year

Five years in bondage

Journalism: Benjamin Skinner

Text by Ryan Bradley
Photograph by Alessandra Petlin

It was near the front lines of the Sudanese civil war, in 2003, when journalist Benjamin Skinner met his first slave. His name was Muong Nyong, and he had run barefoot for two weeks across the burning desert to free himself. As Nyong told his story, Skinner decided to do what few had done before: uncover what it was like to be a slave in the 21st century.

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For five years, across 12 countries, Skinner, 32, tracked down more than a hundred slaves, slave dealers, and former slaves. He traveled to distant stone quarries in forgotten hamlets in India and infiltrated illicit trafficking networks in Bucharest and Dubai. He went undercover, posing as an interested customer or a potential dealer. Often, his life was in danger. In Haiti, he had guns pulled on him while following the child slave trade from the back alleys of Port-au-Prince to the hills far beyond. Through his work he learned that slavery, though illegal and universally condemned, is as widespread as ever, and much more complex and difficult to combat. Astoundingly, there are 27 million people enslaved today—more than at any other point in human history.

By the end of his journey, Skinner knew that he could never understand what it was like to be a slave, but, he says, "I could show what their slavery meant." In March of this year, he released a book that chronicled his experiences, A Crime So Monstrous. More than a devastating look at modern slavery, it is an inspirational demand for justice.

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