Ex-sex slave crusades against forced prostitution

Sun Sep 28, 2008 8:50am EDT
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By Gary Crosse

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Abandoned as a child in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge's murderous reign, Somaly Mam has no memory of her family and doesn't know her true age or name. But she recalls when she was sold to a brothel.

She traces a dramatic and haunting journey from sex slave to crusader against forced prostitution in her newly released memoir, "The Road of Lost Innocence," which reads like a Dickensian tale of triumph over adversity.

Remarkably, she does not see her path from a remote mountain region of Cambodia to an international campaigner as awe-inspiring.

"I never feel that way, I'm still Somaly. I used to work in the fields and now I help victims," she told Reuters in an interview.

Born in the early 1970s, she fleetingly recalls the Khmer Rouge's rule, when an estimated 1.7 million people were executed or died of torture, starvation or disease during a disastrous four-year agrarian revolution in the late 1970s.

Set adrift, she was taken in by an elderly man whom she called "grandfather," an honorific title that belied his cruel character. When she was about 16 years old, he sold her to a brothel to pay off his debts.


Held captive for years, she watched in horror as the brothel owner one day shot a girl in the head for insolence -- one of many acts of violence in Cambodia's notorious sex trade where poor families sometimes sell a daughter to pay debts.   Continued...