Earlier this month, I mentioned I was horrified as I was reading the tale woven by Somaly Mam in her book, The Road of Lost Innocence. It’s an important book for its raw eye-opening nudge from western complacency at the horrors of the southeastern sex slavery trade. I had checked it out from the library, and I’m about to pay a few days overdue fines becauseＩgot busy and wasn’t able to finish it in time. I had had to wait a goodly length of time for my name to come up on the hold list, and I really wanted to finish it.
(this post contains disturbing accounts of violence to children and women – consider yourself warned before reading further.)
Before I got to the segments in the book that literally made me weep, I wondered more cerebrally and detachedly (is that a word?) about the nature of evil, and what would make people do things like this to their fellow people? The author repeatedly prefaces her words with the notion that she is not “an intellectual” focusing instead on the stories, those of her own childhood and those of the ones she has rescued and trained to start a new independent life. Here’s just a couple of the anecdotes:
A while back, I met a mother who would go to a brothel to get the money her ten-year-old daughter earned for her. When I reproached her for this, she retorted, “She’s my daughter. I carried her for nine months; I suffered to give birth to her. I’ll do what I like. She’s not yours. [Somaly argues that it’s her job as a mom to provide for her child. The mother continues,] “Well, I have a husband who beats me. As soon as there’s any money in the house, he drinks, then he beats me up and rapes me. He hits the children. And my daughter is in the brothel so that, thanks to her, there’s a little money. And maybe she’ll meet a man who’ll marry her.”
Another time we were talking to a man who had raped his own daughter, a mere child. We asked him why.
“Her mother is beautiful and she attracts [men] in the village. So to hurt her, I raped her daughter, who’s pretty too.”
“But this daughter is also yours!”
“No, she’s her mother’s. It’s her mother who was pregnant. This child is nothing to me. I didn’t carry her in my womb, did I?”
Wow, huh? I mean, I don’t like to be judgemental, but wow? How does a society get this way, is what I wondered aloud here.
I mean, it just can’t possibly happen in a vaccuum? If it were possible for that to happen in a vaccuum or be somehow inborn, what would that say about the security of my so-called certainty that I’m a basically good person? Hmm. So no, I can only assume that something societally went/has gone horribly awry that is qualitatively very different, heart-breakingly different than the societal influence we westerners have received. The author has a rare moment where she wonders about that too. (mostly she just reports the reality and asserts that she does not, cannot know the answers why, but can only work on the tragedy that is before her and around her.)
How did Cambodia get to be this way? Three decades of bombing, genocide, and starvation and now my country is in a state of moral bankruptcy. The Khmer no longer know who they are.
During the Khmer Rouge regime people detached themselves from any kind of human feeling, because feeling meant pain. They learned not to trust their neighors, their friends, their family, their own children. To avoid going mad, they shrank to the smallest part of a human, which is “me.” After the regime fell, they were silent, either because they had helped cause the suffering or because this is what they had learned to do in order to survive.
Men have the power. Not all the time; in front of their parents, they keep quiet. With the powerful, they must also stay silent and perhaps prostrate themselves. But once these encounters are over, they go home to assume the upper hand and give orders. If their wife resists, they hit her.
One-third of the prostitutes in Phnom Penh are young children. These girls are sold and beaten and abused for some kind of pleasure. In the end I don’t think there is any way you can explain or justify that, or the homeless children scrounging through garbage, inhaling glue from little cans you can buy … in every hardware stall, or the stolen children who are trucked into Thailand for the modern slave trade. Trying to explain it is not what I do. I keep my head down and try to help one girl after another. That is a big enough task.
I close this post again, completely tongue-tied about what I can say. Go buy the book, share the story with some friends? I don’t know…
Here’s a place to buy the book:
And here’s a place to donate to her organization:
Writing this particular post reminds me of how impotent and small we each of us are. I don’t even have a good process for evaluating various charities or causes. But none of us can even attempt to do everything, and this cause, for whatever reason, activates a special place of outrage and compassion in me, so here you can watch me react and respond. I share it with you in that spirit.
Peace to you all!