What we think of… The Road of Lost Innocence

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Author: Somaly Mam
Publisher: Virago Press
Format: Paperback
RRP: AUD $24.99

My rating ★★★★☆

What it’s about…

The Road of Lost Innocence is the remarkable autobiography of Cambodian sexual trafficking survivor Somaly Mam.

Abandoned by her parents when she was just a child, Mam lived “like a little savage” in the forests surrounding her native mountain village, until a man she had never met took her away at the age of 10, claiming to be her grandfather.

Far from home, in her “grandfather’s” ramshackle house, she was treated like a servant and forced to earn money to fuel the old man’s gambling and drinking habits. When she was 12 she was raped by a drunk storekeeper as payment for her grandfather’s debts.

At 14 she was married off to a violent soldier twice her age. The rapes and the beatings were savage and frequent. At 15 her grandfather sold her to a brothel.

Somaly Mam (second from right) with her ‘Voices for Change’ ambassadors, all survivors of trafficking.

Page by page, Mam describes her life in Phnom Penh’s squalid red light district; the violence, the sickness, and the filth.

Trapped by the cycle of her grandfather’s debts, she tells of the years of abuse, her unlikely escape and her paintstaking, determined rise from “worthless” prostitute to inspirational figurehead in the fight against the all-powerful sex trafficking trade.

What we think…

This is a must read for anyone complacent about life’s comforts and the basic human rights they take for granted every day.

Mam’s story is confronting, discomforting and inspiring. The depth of suffering this woman, and so many like her, have been through is unimaginable.

She recounts the horrors of her youth simply, and the successes of her adulthood (the girls she has rescued from sexual slavery, the shelters she has created to house and educate them, the awareness she has fostered internationally of this lucrative, powerful black market) humbly.

There is no self-pity, no lamentation. The writing is hauntingly matter-of-fact.

Perhaps this is a product of translation (the book was written first in French); perhaps it is a survival mechanism. You get the feeling Mam is holding her memories at arm’s length, compelled to share them but frightened to relive them. She says:

“There are times when I’d like to get rid of this burden of memory which weighs me down, which enacts the roll call of my misery… That’s one of the reasons I decided to write this book. Perhaps it will stop me having to tell my story over and over again.”

Somaly Mam is fighting to save girls as young as this one from falling victim to sexual trafficking.

The other reason is to make people aware of the atrocities women and girls – some as young as 5 – suffer in her country.

This is what keeps Somaly Mam going, in the face of opposition, corruption and threats against her life and her family. As she puts it:

“[M]y story isn’t important. The point is not what happened to me. I’m writing about it to make visible the lives of so many thousands of other women. They have no voice, so let this one stand for their story.”

Somaly, your tale has reached another ear. Long may your work continue.

– DF

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