I don’t really feel like this can be a proper review: ‘Slave Girl’ is an autobiography of sorts, chronicling Sarah Forsyth’s tragic life, in which she is abused by her father and carers, and ultimately ends up being sold into sex slavery in Amsterdam.
It’s one of those books where the mind boggles at this girls life – it starts with continual sexual abuse from her father, and both social service and the judicial system continue to fail her throughout her young life, the ultimate example of this failure being when the ‘carers’ send her to live with her disgusting father when her behaviour means her mother can’t house her any more. Nothing seems to go right: Sarah’s plan to start afresh as a nursery nurse in Amsterdam becomes the worst decision of her life, when a pimp forces her to become one of the many girls in Amsterdam’s infamous Red Light District. She ends up on a £500-a-day habit towards the end, with even the authorities being under the control of the pimps.
Throughout the book, Sarah questions herself in order to answer what the reader might be asking. Why didn’t she run away? Why get addicted to crack? How did no one notice she was missing? Sarah’s early life partly explains this – for as long as she can remember, Sarah has been trapped in the prison of her own mind by those seeking to hurt her, which causes her to see no way out, as everything seems suspicious. Even the genuine attempts to help her are seen as the pimps testing her loyalty.
This was one of the strongest emotions I picked up on – the frustration at being unable to turn without a barrier being in the way. If it wasn’t social services inability to help her, it was the carers abusing her and her peers, and even her success as a nursery nurse led to her downfall in Amsterdam. I even thought her relationship with Tracy would end up causing another battle with drugs when it sounded like they would end their marriage, but seeing her pull through her horrific ordeal was testament to the hope she was trying to spread.
The idea of Stockholm Syndrome leading to Sarah’s relationship with Sally was one of the most tragic elements of the novel. It was the ultimate outer sign of her inner conflict: what does survival matter once everyone has left you to continue with a ‘normal’ life? Even though Sarah had her mother and Eddie, it was easy to see that no one could possibly understand her trials. This is the same dependancy we see displayed by Sally and Reece, which shows the deep psychological ramifications of her time in the Red Light District.
The trivial nature of the pimps and their lack of respect for the person behind the girls they prostituted is shown in Par’s murder: her worth was summed up by her entertainment value, which was a sickening price to put on a human life. After having recently been to Amsterdam, it’s something a tourist wouldn’t imagine: it’s a case of ‘Surely if it’s so public, it can’t be like that?’. It demonstrates why people struggled to understand or even believe some of Sarah’s stories, as she aptly points out that people don’t like to confront the monsters beneath the bed. And after reading ‘Slave Girl’, monster seems like too light a term. While the physical nightmare may have ended, it’s easy to see that the psychological impact will never fade with Sarah, and anyone who reads this will definitely find a shadow cast on their tourists view of the Red Light District.