By Abby Sher
Available now from Barron's Educational Series
In my quest to read more nonfiction, I stumbled across BREAKING FREE. It tells the stories of three women who escaped sexual slavery - Somaly Mam, Minh Dang, and Maria Suarez - with an additional section detailing more facts about sexual slavery, what to read next, and what to do to stop human trafficking.
I really appreciated that Abby Sher focuses on what Mam, Dang, and Suarez did after they escaped their captors and how they went on to help other women in sexual slavery. She's very clear about what happened to them, but refrains from prurience. There are none of those magazine descriptions of rape that go into every little detail. However, I felt that Sher's writing was too simplistic. This is a book about sexual slavery for teens, but the style often made it seem like a book about sexual slavery for children. I preferred the quotes in BREAKING FREE taken directly from Mam, Dang, or Suarez.
The majority of the book, slightly over one third, focuses on Mam. She has saved innumerable Cambodian girls from sexual slavery through her foundation AFESIP. However, she resigned from her foundation after the May 21, 2014 Newsweek article "Somaly Mam: The Holy Saint (and Sinner) of Sex Trafficking" by Simon Marks. This article revealed that Mam lied about parts of her history and coached other girls to lie about theirs. It casts a pall over this section of the book, and the depth of Sher's research. (There have been previous, less complete and publicized reports, of the inconsistencies in Mam's stories.)
I think others might stumble upon BREAKING FREE and be inspired by the stories of survival and activism within. But I can't recommend it as an introduction to the topic of sexual slavery. I do recommend that people look into the stories of Maria Suarez and Minh Dang. They will be particularly eye opening to some readers, because both women were held captive in the United States. Trafficking is a problem everywhere.