Candid memoir of a woman trapped in the sex-slave trade, who is now an activist against it.
“You shouldn’t try and discover the past,” Mam recalls her adoptive father telling her. “You shouldn’t hurt yourself.” Born in 1970 or 1971 and torn from her ethnic Phnong family during Cambodia’s genocidal civil war, Mam suffered as a child in a Khmer village whose people saw her as “fatherless, black, and ugly,” possibly even a cannibal. Her pederast grandfather sold her virginity to a Chinese merchant to whom he owed money, a prize in a culture where raping a virgin was believed to cure AIDS. He then sold her to a soldier who “beat me often, sometimes with the butt of his rifle on my back and sometimes with his hands.” From there it was a short path to what Mam calls “ordinary prostitution,” working for a madam who was quick to hit and slow to feed. In time, after a series of indignities that she recounts in painful detail, Mam extricated herself to live with a French humanitarian-aid worker. Married, she moved with him to France, where she discovered that “French people could be racist, just like the Khmers.” Burdened with an unpleasant mother-in-law, she welcomed the chance to return to Cambodia, working in a Doctors Without Borders clinic and turning her home into a kind of halfway house for abused, drug-addicted and ill prostitutes, most of whom were very young. Mam recounts her battles against government officials, pimps, brothel keepers and other foes in a campaign that brought death threats against her, but that slowly gathered force as it gained funding from UNICEF and several European governments. That campaign is ongoing, and Mam concludes that there’s plenty left to do, since Cambodia is “in a state of chaos where the only rule is every man for himself.”
An urgent, though depressing, document, worthy of a place alongside Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone, Rigoberto Menchú’s autobiography and other accounts of overcoming Third World hardship.