Former President Jimmy Carter’s A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power bridges the subject of human trafficking in a chapter on “Slavery and Prostitution.” Carter approaches the rights of women laborers from a perspective that is both moralistic and rights-based.

JCarter Book

Carter opens by mentioning the work of Free the Slaves founder Siddharth Kara, who has called for a focus on male customers who “keep the slave masters and brothel owners in business,” and notes the “tragic” trend of pimpless prostitution made possible via websites like BackPage and Craigslist.

After discussing the state of sex sale and slavery in the United States, Carter turns to the topic of anti-trafficking efforts in India and Nepal. He introduces a variety of factors leading to the trafficking of women and girls: poverty, promises of legitimate employment, rapid urbanization, and a gender imbalance due to sex-selective abortion (a topic Carter tackles earlier in his book) that makes it difficult for young men to find female partners. For the reader unfamiliar with trafficking, it becomes apparent that there is more at play than demand for sex alone.

Carter closes the chapter with a long recounting of his efforts to work with regional leaders to curb the spread of HIV in southern African. He criticizes the former stance of the Catholic Church, which has consistently refused to condone the use of condoms as an HIV prevention method, and of western evangelical groups who convinced leaders in Uganda to adopt an “abstinence only” approach for similar moralistic reasons. By the close of his discussion, Carter’s call to educate sex workers and clients and make sex work safer reflects a practical rather than a moralistic plea. Here and throughout his book, Carter rails against institutions that inhibit human rights in the name of religious doctrine and holds them accountable for what he—himself a Baptist minister—considers to be gross distortions of inter-faith values like compassion and special assistance to the poorest and most vulnerable.