In the 2014 book The Locust Effect, Gary Haugen makes the case that “common violence” impedes progress in international development. Haugen likens the cloud of locusts that swept over the middle of the United States in 1873, a force that devoured and decimated everything in its path, to the plague of violence that infects the world’s poor and inhibits progress towards a better life.
Haugen lists the main types of common violence that inhibit progress as sexual violence, which includes but is not limited to the trafficking of women and girls and sex slavery, forced labor, abusive police practices, torture, pre-trial detention, and violent land seizures. There is a range of what these types of violence looks like in different cultures and countries, but Haugen classifies common violence as any type of lawlessness that can occur almost anywhere to anyone where law enforcement and criminal justice systems are broken and do not benefit the people. He ties in the title again when describing the relationship between crime and the poor: “unlike the locusts of the Great Plains, who were equal-opportunity destroyers, the locusts of violence in the developing world actually seek out the poor.”
Haugen claims that crime and violence affect the poor more because they are targeted by those who have more power and money. Being born poor is being born with a target on your back; not just for those who will exploit you, but for police themselves. Haugen believes that a lack of training, corruption, and outdated, colonialist police programs that have never learned to serve the common people have resulted in completely ineffective police and criminal justice systems that do not work for the poor.
Violence and crime vary from country to country, from community to community, but almost all law enforcement, criminal justice, and court systems in the developing world could use some updates. Haugen acknowledges that change will not come easily, but claims it can be done. He sees some common themes in successes:
- Each movement of criminal justice reform required local ownership and leadership of a very intentional effort to transform the justice system
- Each public justice system had its own particular problems, symptoms of dysfunction, and obstacles to reform that required highly contextualized solutions
- Committed community leaders and reform-minded elites played a critical role
- Effective criminal justice systems improved the working conditions of the people working in the system
- The priority goal of effective transformation efforts was a criminal justice system that prevented violence and crime and built trust with the public
Haugen gives some examples of successful projects and programs that have reformed law enforcement, criminal justice, and court systems.
- In Brazil a group of organizations have united to combat forced labor slavery. Brazil’s Ministry of Labour and Employment (MTE) has Special Mobile Inspection Groups (GEFMs) that conduct surprise inspections and investigations on landowners and employers suspected of using slave labor. Between 1995 and 2010 these mobile units have rescued 38,301 laborers and the mobile units are being replicated across Brazil. These efforts have raised the profile of forced labor and awareness is higher than ever.
- In Sierra Leone a small group called Timap for Justice are dedicated to legal empowerment of the poor. They believe that a shortage of qualified lawyers and the lack of available funds to pay for them is limiting the poor’s access to legal services. Timap uses highly-trained paralegals as their solution to address common crimes. These paralegals are trained to provide legal services to the poor without the cost of a lawyer. Paralegals are trained in mediation techniques and to be flexible with multiple approaches to law, whether from a traditional legal standpoint or a religious one. 40% of Sierra Leone has access to a community paralegal now, thanks to this scalable program which is in the process of expanding its reach.
- A group in Peru, Paz y Esperanza, has mobilized community efforts to bring public accountability to the criminal justice system. By way of awareness and public action campaigns, they have fully secured more than 152 convictions of sexual predators since 2003. Paz y Esperanza brought the epidemic of sexual violence into the public conversation and even led a successful campaign to remove four corrupt judges from the local courts who refused to prosecute sexual violence with integrity.
There are many more success stories and useful lessons to learn in The Locust Effect. Haugen wants us to talk about violence in the broader context of development because he believes that success will only be long-lasting if the threat of fear of violence is diminished. He makes a compelling case.