A Cambodian author and human rights advocate, Somaly Mam focuses primarily on the needs of victims of human sex trafficking. She has garnered media acclaim for her efforts.
Viewed by many as the most compelling face of human sex trafficking, Mam was sold into prostitution in Cambodia when she was just a girl. She doesn't know her age, her given name or any family members, but she does know how to fight human-trafficking, which in the past 12 months has claimed as many as 4 million girls and women.
Born into a tribal ethnic minority family in Cambodia, Mam’s family struggled through extreme poverty and limited opportunities. As happens with millions of girls across the world, Mam’s family sold her into sexual slavery many times to help support her family. At a very young age (she can’t remember how young), she was forced to work in a brothel with many other young girls. There, she was kept in a dark pit with maggots if she refused to sleep with a client, was once beaten for helping another prostitute escape, and even saw a close friend murdered by a pimp. This became the defining moment of her life; from this moment on, she made it her mission to escape and find a way to stop this vicious cycle.
Mam says that her past is a major contributing factor regarding her passion and effort to help young children and women involved with human trafficking. At the age of 30 she became a spokeswoman for women and children tortured in the brothels of Cambodia. She created the AFESIP (Agir pour les Femmes en Situation Précaire or “Acting for Women in Distressing Circumstances”) NGO in 1997 in Cambodia. Since then, this international NGO has developed in Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. Its goals are to save and socially reintegrate people who are victims of these kinds of hardships. Despite threats against her, Somaly Mam has been able to help thousands of young girls and teenagers who have been coerced into prostitution.
“I am not sure what being happy really means,” Somaly said. “But when I cuddle with the girls, giving them the love I never received, then I do feel happy.”
Her commitment and perseverance to combat sex slavery and human trafficking has brought Somaly enormous international recognitions including:
- CNN Hero
- Glamour Woman of the Year 2006
- Olympic flag bearer, Torino 2006
- US State Department “Heroes of Anti-Trafficking” award
- TIME Magazine People Who Mattered 2008