The book is well-designed and will break your heart into splintery pieces. Because there are no pretty words that can make it anything besides what it is, which is a record of profound and unfathomable human suffering.
It's about everything we don't much care to see. Hotels and shacks with the lurid neon and red-lit openings in the great black maws of places we don't care to look, and the little girls who are invisible and are small parts of a trade — who fuel the trade, billions of dollars of it — whose webs and tangles extend the world over.
It was a world where for years, there were no faces. But there are more faces now. It's easier to see them when they've written books. When they appear before groups of people, summoning the courage to say what they've gone through.
In a video that appeared on CNN in 2007, correspondent Dan Rivers profiled a survivor of the sex trade in Cambodia who had first opened her home, and later a shelter, to girls she had rescued from that same world. It was part of an organization that she had founded in 1996 called AFESIP (an acronym in French that stands for Acting for Women in Distressing Situations). The survivor's name was Somaly Mam.
"They're so young, right?" Mam says in the video as she looks over the children playing with toys on the floor — children who couldn't be any older than 10, frequently much younger, whom she had rescued from brothels. "You see them so happy. They smile with you. But when you listen to their stories, it's horrible."
Two recent graduates of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Jared Greenberg and Nicholas Lumpp, saw that video. They visited Mam in Cambodia and soon after, the Somaly Mam Foundation was born. It's described as "a funding vehicle to support anti-trafficking organizations and to provide victims and survivors with a platform from which their voices can be heard around the world," a means of extending her efforts into Southeast Asia and North America.
As a result, many people have had their eyes opened, not least among them employees of the foundation.
"You really see that this happens to real people," says Ariel Siegel, foundation program manager. "It's not caricatured. It's not stories. It's faces. If you visit our website, you've probably seen a photo of a girl missing an eye named Somana. And so, Somana and I are a month apart. We're the same age. But I often tell my colleagues that we're a month apart, and a world apart."
There are lines in Mam's memoir, The Road of Lost Innocence, that betray some reluctance to re-enter her past where there's a girl, a gun pressed to her temple, murdered, in front of other girls after an escape attempt; where the rooms smell like they do; where from the time she was 12, Mam was a slave and saw things so evil that they defy words.
Yet perhaps that is what's so remarkable about Mam, the reason it's impossible to talk about her without hearing words such as "heroine" and "example." That despite everything that has happened to her, she continues to go back.
"People ask me how I can bear to keep doing what I do," she writes. "I'll tell you. The evil that's been done to me is what propels me on. Is there any other way to exorcise it?"
"This woman," says Betty Edwards, chairman of the Human Trafficking Task Force of Southern Colorado, "is a prime example to women everywhere of having come through the human trafficking experience and being able to be a successful survivor, in that she made a life for herself. And not only that, she's ended up going back to where all the atrocities were and helped the other women."
And you realize it's because of her efforts that things are changing. Because you realize, as Siegel puts it, that slavery is real, that "it has a face. It has a name. It has blood. It has skin. It has hair. It can happen to any of us."