Yesterday I finished my first summer read: The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine by Somaly Mam. I have heard speakers discuss the issue of human trafficking. I have seen pictures of brothel conditions; and videos of raids in brothels, and of victims. I have attended sex trafficking seminars and conferences, and visited the World Hope Assessment Center in Cambodia. I have even read other books on young girls trafficked in SE Asia. However, it is Somaly Mam's story that has impacted me in such a compelling and truly eye-opening way. Telling her own story, Somaly Mam graphically personalizes the horror and violence of the sex trade industry in Cambodia.
Mam was living on her own in the forest around 1980 when a 55-year-old stranger claimed he would take her to her missing family. "Grandfather" beat and abused the nine-year-old Mam and sold her virginity to a Chinese merchant to cover a gambling debt. She was then sold into a brothel in Phnom Penh, and the daily suffering and humiliation she endured is almost impossible to imagine or absorb. She recounted disobedient girls being tortured and killed, and police collusion and government involvement in the sex trade. Somaly Mam managed to break the cycle only when she discovered the advantages of foreign clients and eventually married a Frenchman, Pierre. After a few years in France, Mam and Pierre returned to Cambodia and set up AFESIP - a charity "acting for women in distressing circumstances." Mam has fearlessly devoted herself to helping prostitutes and exploited children. This moving, disturbing tale is not one of redemption but a cry for justice and support for women's plight everywhere.
The statistics are shocking: one in every forty Cambodian girls (some as young as five) will be sold into sex slavery. In Cambodia (and in other countries,) many people believe that sex with a virgin will cure AIDS; and in Khmer tradition, women are unquestionably obedient.