What is the Locust Effect?



I was a junior in high school the first time I witnessed poverty in the developing world firsthand. I went on a trip with my church to a small village outside Managua, Nicaragua, and returned home devastated by the abysmal conditions I saw the people living in. Determined to help meet needs they had like shoes, clothing, jobs, better houses, and schools — my friends and I had fundraisers, took physical donations, and held shoe drives — whatever we could do to help our new friends have access to what they were lacking.

Traditional poverty relief efforts like these are a natural response to the conditions I saw in Nicaragua, but as I continued to travel, I began to wake up to the existence of an even more pernicious evil than a lack of physical goods. I learned that poverty in the developing world leaves the poor vulnerable to more than just hunger or cold — it leaves them vulnerable to exploitation and violence, with little to no hope of justice in a corrupt law enforcement system skewed against them. This disturbing reality is known as the Locust Effect.


The Locust Effect is the idea that, just like a plague of locusts can destroy the hard work of a farmer, criminals practicing everyday violence can devastate the work of the global poor, as well as anti-poverty efforts from around the world. So, everyday violence like human trafficking, land theft, sexual violence, illegal detention, domestic abuse, and police abuse must be stopped before global poverty can come to an end.


Gary Haugen, founder of our partner International Justice Mission (IJM) and author of “The Locust Effect,” says, “In the end, outsiders can seek to provide all kinds of assistance to the poor in the developing world—to the tune of more than $3 trillion over the last half century—but if there is no restraint of the bullies who are prepared to steal every sprig of prosperity away from those who are weak, then the outcome of our assistance is going to be disappointing.”

Haugen explains that the problem is not a lack of laws, but rather a lack of law enforcement. The abuses mentioned above are against the law in most countries, but these laws are not often enforced, and corrupt criminal justice systems around the world are more likely to side with wealthier criminals than their poor victims.

Most poor people live outside the protection of the law.
— The UN Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor

In light of this, traditional poverty relief efforts like providing food, clothing, shelter, micro-loans, and schools are helpful but incomplete. Widows are thrown out of their homes and off their land by their neighbors, women and children are sexually assaulted on the way to school or on the way to the well, and families are deceived into sending their children off into a life of forced labor or sexual exploitation to make ends meet. Without proper law enforcement, criminals are allowed to rob the global poor of the very things that could help lift them out of poverty.


Difference makers around the world — organizations and individuals alike — are working to ensure that the issue of everyday violence is receiving international attention and that criminals practicing these abuses are stopped. Organizations like IJM have had success working with local governments and law enforcement to reconstruct and set in order criminal justice systems around the world. But even if you’re not a lawyer, politician, economist, or in law enforcement, everyday people have a part to play in stopping everyday violence in the developing world.

Here are four things we all can do to make a difference:

  • Become educated about the role that everyday violence plays in global poverty. The Locust Effect website and Haugen’s book, “The Locust Effect,” are a great place to start.

  • Start a conversation with your friends about issues that are important to you, bring up topics like everyday violence, human trafficking, and their connection to global poverty.

  • Support businesses that provide safe, stable jobs and benefits in the developing world. You can find several of these businesses on our brand partners page.

  • Raise resources and give to organizations that are working to put a stop to everyday violence around the globe. You can find some great organizations on our grant partners page.

If you participated in Dressember or our annual 5k, you are already making a difference! Proceeds from Dressember campaigns go to support a wide range of organizations working to bring an end to human trafficking. Some are working directly with local law enforcement to bring perpetrators of human trafficking to justice. Every little bit you do matters!

Small Run, Big Impact.


Join us on April 13th for our second annual 'You Can Do Anything in a Dress (or Tie)' 5k. Run in our Los Angeles 5k/Yoga event or run virtually in your own city! Set up your free campaign page and purchase tickets for the LA event today!

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About the Author

Erin Flippin King.png

Erin Flippin King is a freelance writer and editor, loving life in Jonesboro, AR with her husband, Aaron (same name, cute right?) and son, Sam. Erin enjoys dancing like a fool, joking at wildly inappropriate times, spending time in the sunshine, and Dr. Pepper. She recently earned her master's degree in Biblical Studies and Hebrew and shares her writing at erinflippinking.com.