This is widely acknowledged to be the 21st-century version of slavery, but governments accept it partly because it seems to defy solution. Prostitution is said to be the oldest profession. It exists in all countries, and if some teenage girls are imprisoned in brothels until they die of AIDS, that is seen as tragic but inevitable.
The perfect counterpoint to that fatalism is Somaly Mam, one of the bravest and boldest of those foreign visitors pouring into New York City this month. Somaly is a Cambodian who as a young teenager was sold to the brothels herself and now runs an organization that extricates girls from forced prostitution.
Now Somaly has published her inspiring memoir, “The Road of Lost Innocence,” in the United States, and it offers some lessons for tackling the broader problem.
In the past when I’ve seen Somaly and her team in Cambodia, I frankly didn’t figure that she would survive this long. Gangsters who run the brothels have held a gun to her head, and seeing that they could not intimidate Somaly with their threats, they found another way to hurt her: They kidnapped and brutalized her 14-year-old daughter.
Three years ago, I wrote from Cambodia about a raid Somaly organized on the Chai Hour II brothel where more than 200 girls had been imprisoned. Girls rescued from the brothel were taken to Somaly’s shelter, but the next day gangsters raided the shelter, kidnapped the girls and took them right back to the brothel.
Yet Somaly continued her fight, and, with the help of many others, she has registered real progress. Today, she says, the Chai Hour II brothel is shuttered. In large part, so is the Svay Pak brothel area where 12-year-old girls were openly for sale on my first visit.
“If you want to buy a virgin, it’s not easy now,” notes Somaly, speaking in English — her fifth language...
READ THE FULL EDITORIAL AT NYTimes.com