For his debut novel, A Walk Across the Sun, attorney Corban Addison went undercover in brothels to illuminate the plight of the international sex slave trade.
How did you happen to write about human trafficking and sex slavery?
My wife, Marcy, actually came up with the idea. Both of us have a history of being interested in human rights, and we support the International Justice Mission, which is a legal aid organization that works in developing countries and gives the poor access to the justice system. We had also recently seen the movie, Trade, about a 13-year-old who is kidnapped by sex traffickers. And one morning, my wife said, “I think you need to write a story on human trafficking and set it in India, and you should go now.”
Is the Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation, for whom your main character does pro bono work, a real organization?
When I wrote the book, there was no such organization. I made up CASE, which is modeled after IJM. Its work in India focuses on forced prostitution and forced labor. I’m an attorney and I was fortunate to have friends who connected me with IJM. They had never offered any journalist or writer access to their office, so they took a leap of faith and allowed me to be embedded in their Mumbai office. And I basically devoured everything they had in their library, read their police reports, spoke to operatives who worked the streets, and I went to court with them.
Were you surprised by any of what you uncovered?
Being in a brothel was one of the most unusual things I’ve ever done. I had a guide through IJM who knew the brothel owners, and he would tell them I was in the market for a girl, though obviously I was just there to observe their conditions. And it was just as I described in the book—you’re sitting in a room with lights and mirrors. They close the windows and the shutters, and lock the door. They brought the girls out—eight or nine at a time, and it was pretty clear to me that they were not there voluntarily. It was deeply troubling, and seeing the girls in the flesh in the context in which they were more or less imprisoned, made it personal in a way that all the reading in the world would not have.
What do you hope your novel accomplishes?
For me, it’s not just a book—it’s an opportunity to reach the world with a truth that isn’t widely appreciated. The U.N. estimates that there are $32 billion in profits from the illicit sex trade every year. It is one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises—second or third only to illegal drugs and guns. My hope is that the book will propel people to learn more about the subject, support organizations doing heroic work in this field, and put pressure on the people in positions of power who can make a difference in these girls’ lives.