Title: The Road of Lost Innocence
Author: Somaly Mam (Translated from French by Lisa Appignanesi)
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; First Edition first Printing edition (September 9, 2008)
Set in: Cambodia
This was one of the most difficult books I have ever read. We all know that prostitution and human trafficking is million dollar business that seems to continue to grow over the years. But most of us probably don’t know the extent of this problem and how it affects lives of young girls. All over the world and especially in underdeveloped/ developing countries, this is a problem that is quickly getting out of hands.
The Road of Lost Innocence is a story from Cambodia. Ms. Somaly had a very horrific life, 100 times more horrific than you can guess from the synopsis of the book. The worst phase was her life in the brothel. She describes the desperate and dirty living conditions in the low-end brothels where one girl had to sometimes service 10-15 men in one day. She says Cambodian men are very violent people, the years of Khmer regime has left a mark on them. She describes how the prostitutes are forced into the trade by their family members, by their own mothers and fathers. Poverty drives them to do this.
When she left the brothel for good, she married a Frenchman who was a social worker in Cambodia. After that she decided to use her status as a white man’s wife to help girls like her. She started a center that housed women rescued from brothels. Her center also provided health care and a way for these girls to build their life again by teaching them various skills. She also initiated an educational program which educated men into what prostitution was really like for those girls. Cambodian men seemed to treat women like commodities and she tried to speak against that by showing them that they were after all human beings.
The most shocking part was the ages of these girls in the brothels. There are as young as 5-6 year old girls. Some men seem to believe that having sex with a virgin will cure them of AIDS. To ensure that the girls were virgins, they bought in girls as young as 5.
I have such immense respect for Ms. Somaly and the work her organization is doing instead of the constant threats they get. In Cambodia, big brothels are controlled or owned by powerful people. Even policeman have a share in the brothels earnings. When the system that is supporting you is going against you, people like Somaly Mam provide a beacon of hope.
I had watched a documentary on these very children of Cambodia but I guess the documentary masked some of the horrific details. This book tells you things as they are. And even when sometimes things become too difficult to read, I just had to keep going on. If we cannot help these girls, we at least owe it to them to be informed about their fate and know that there are people like them who suffer endlessly for no fault of theirs.
Note: The paperback edition contains some pictures, whereas the hardback doesn’t.
Some of the links:
Somaly Mam’s foundation
AFESIP: Acting for women in distressing situation
When a Hotel is a brothel and vice versa
Cambodia faces problems enforced new sex trafickking law