Monday, November 16, 2009

Review: The Road of Lost Innocence by Somaly Mam

Found via: Amelia Bloomer Project

This is not an easy book to read.

There are always books out there about child abuse and sexual abuse, and they are always difficult to read. This one was harder than most for me, however, because this one was real.

Somaly Mam is a Cambodian activist who was orphaned as a young child and sent to live with a man she called her grandfather (Mam doesn't know whether he was actually a relation or not). He was physically abusive, and as she became a teenager he became sexually abusive, and would sell Mam to other men to rape in order to settle his debts.

Around 15 or 16, Mam was sold into organized prostitution, forced to live and work in a brothel, again as a way of settling debt.

After a few years as a prostitute, Mam finally escaped with the help of a French aid worker, and has since dedicated her life (and risking it on several occasions) to help the girls and women of south east Asia escape prostitution, get the medical care they need, and learn marketable skills so they'll never need to re-enter the sex trade.

Throughout the book, Mam provides unflinching looks into the world of abuse she lived in for far too long. She is raped multiple times, beaten and tortured.

Mam's story is set against the backdrop of a Cambodia constantly in turmoil. She was born a few years before Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge took control of the country. Mam was illiterate and spent most of her formative years in rural areas so she's unable to give a lot of details of what was happening when, but it's clear that the country has been unstable for her entire life, and Mam theorizes that that instability and the horrors the people survived under the Khmer Rouge play a part in why her countrymen are so willing to allow abusive prostitution to continue and thrive.

While it's difficult to read, this is an important book, highlighting the nightmarish realities of the sex trade. Make sure you have something fun and fluffy to read after this one, though. You're going to need it.

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