Somaly Mam
1.1K views | +0 today
Somaly Mam
A Victim Changing the World of Sexual Slavery
Your new post is loading...
Your new post is loading...
Scooped by Karlee Wroblewski.Leah Wisniewski!

Early Life of Somaly Mam

Written By Karlee and Leah


Somaly Mam was born in either 1970 or 1971 (according to her memoir), though she is not certain of her actual birth date. She has no records of her birth, nor any knowledge of who her actual birth parents are.


Somaly Mam was born into a tribal minority family in Cambodia. As a child, Mam was no stranger to poverty and destitution and was used to resorting to desperate means of survival. This “resorting to desperate means” proved to be a trend in Mam’s life, especially in her later years.


In the 1970’s Pol Pot and Khemr Rouge terrorized Cambodia and thousands flew to the countryside. Mam was separated from her parents and ultimately living on her own. Sometime during the ages of 5-8 a man came to Mam promising to help her find her father. Desperate and trusting, Mam followed this man. He required that Mam call him “grandfather” as a sign of respect. This was the first sign that this arrangement would not have positive outcomes.


Somaly Mam was abused by “grandfather” for several years. She was a domestic slave to him until around age 13 or 14 when she was sold into prostitution and forced to marry a stranger. While living with “grandfather” he also used her as means to pay off his debt, ultimately using her as a prostitute. Her new husband was a fighter and often beat her. As a prostitute, it was expected that Somaly Mam would have several partners a day. If she did not comply, she would be taken to a cellar and forced to stay with snakes and scorpions. Another common form of punishment was torture and rape. She lived with her circumstances because without being a prostitute, she had no means of survival. No education. No job. And she was a woman. One night, Mam witnessed a good friend murdered with a single gunshot. Worried that she was to come to the same fate, Somaly fled.


It was at that moment she decided she would do what she could for those in similar situations that she had been in herself.




"Somaly Mam." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 23 Dec. 2011.


Mam, Somaly, and Ruth Marshall. The Road of Lost Innocence. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2008. Print.

No comment yet.
Scooped by Karlee Wroblewski.Leah Wisniewski!




Images of what it actually means to be a "sex slave" in the 21st Century. Terribly sad and unfortunately true account of the topic.

No comment yet.
Scooped by Karlee Wroblewski.Leah Wisniewski!

Timeline of Mam's Achievements

Timeline of Mam's Achievements | Somaly Mam |
When Somaly Mam was 16 years old, she was sold to a brothel, where she endured rape and unimaginable cruelty.
No comment yet.
Scooped by Karlee Wroblewski.Leah Wisniewski!

Human Trafficking: This Issue in Regards to Cambodia

Human Trafficking: This Issue in Regards to Cambodia | Somaly Mam |

Written by Karlee and Leah


Human trafficking is the illegal trade of human beings for the purposes of reproductive slavery, commercial sexual exploitation, forced labor, or a modern-day form of slavery.


The Facts:

1. At least 12.3 million people are trafficked worldwide.

2. More than 1 million children are victims of trafficking.

3. People are trafficked in 161 countries, including the United States.Human trafficking is a $32 billion industry worldwide.

4. On average, only 1 person is convicted for every 800 trafficking cases worldwide.



In the world of human trafficking, Cambodia is regarded as a “supply state” or a place that, in a sense, provides modern day slaves for the rest of the world. Particular places include Thailand, Malaysia, Macao, and Taiwan.


Women are typically exported for prostitution, though some get off easy with domestic slavery.Men are trafficked for forced labor in the agriculture, fishing, and construction industries.Children are trafficked for sexual exploitation and forced labor in organized begging rings, soliciting, street vending, and flower selling.


It has been found that 90% of those trafficked from Cambodia are women or girls under the age of 18 (most under the age of 13). It can be inferred that the majority of these women and children are being sexually exploited, as Mam was.


In no way does the term “supply state” imply that there is not an issue within Cambodia itself. Women are being held to prostitution everyday against their will. The concept of being a “supply state” points towards a larger issue. Cambodia is exploiting their women not only for their own use, but the use of the world—tying them in with the global issue of human trafficking.


The Source of the Issue In Cambodia:


The root causes of sex trafficking in Cambodia are twofold:

1. Pervasive poverty. People are desperate to find means of survival. In many cases, the only item that many women posses is their own bodies. They then resort to selling themselves. Others (like Mam) are victims and taken against their will and then must remain in their situation or be beat or tortured to death.

2. The cultural and historical status of women and girls as second-class citizens.


Flowing from these root causes are many consequential conditions that have allowed human trafficking to flourish. Although the socio-cultural conditions are complex, it is crucial to identify key problems areas in order to examine effective potential remedies and developing legal approaches. The consequential conditions of the root causes that enable sex trafficking are:

1. Lack of education among women and children.

2. Culturally entrenched second-class status of these groups

3. Involuntary and forced sex-slavery is entangled under laws for prostitution in general (need to recognize their distinct human rights issues) and therefore criminalizing the victims.

4. Huge profits are generated by human sex trafficking organizers.

5. Economic desperation and unemployment (lack of economic options in conditions of poverty) increase the vulnerability of these groups to exploitation by sex-traffickers.


The issue is growing larger every year. The goal of Somaly Mam is to reverse the issue with her various foundations. More information on these foundations, goals, struggles, and achievements can be explored else where on our website.




" | Cambodia." A Web Resource for Combating Human Trafficking in the East Asia Pacific Region. Web. 23 Dec.

No comment yet.
Scooped by Karlee Wroblewski.Leah Wisniewski!

Fighting Back, One Brothel Raid at a Time

Fighting Back, One Brothel Raid at a Time | Somaly Mam |

Annotation: We chose this article because Kristof, author of Half the Sky, comments on Somaly Mam and her amazing strength as a person. Kristof personally is extremely supportive of Mam and all of her efforts. In this article, Kristof goes into detail on the extreme situtations present in brothels and the difficulty of freeing women from "capture" to give them a chance to have freedom and ultimately success.


Written by Nicholas D. Kristof


AGAINST my better judgment, I found myself the other day charging into a well-armed brothel in a police raid. But I was comforted to be with one of my heroes, Somaly Mam.


Somaly dedicates her life to battling forced prostitution, for she herself was sold as a child to a Cambodian brothel. After enduring torture and rapes, Somaly escaped and reinvented herself as an anti-trafficking activist.


It's partly because of grass-roots activists like Somaly, both in the United States and abroad, that human trafficking is increasingly recognized as a central human rights challenge. A U.N. agency estimates that more than 12 million people are engaged in forced labor, including sexual servitude. Another U.N. report has estimated that in Asia alone, ''one million children are involved in the sex trade under conditions that are indistinguishable from slavery.''


In the abstract, the 21st-century abolitionist movement sounds uplifting and even glamorous. But riding beside Somaly in her car toward a brothel bristling with AK-47 assault rifles, it was scary.


This town of Anlong Veng is in northern Cambodia near the Thai border, with a large military presence; it feels like something out of the Wild West. Somaly, whose efforts are financed mostly through American supporters of her Somaly Mam Foundation, had sneaked into this brothel and surreptitiously photographed very young girls. With the photographs, she convinced Cambodia's anti-trafficking police to mount the raid.


It didn't help my nerves that Somaly, whom I've known for years, is fearless. Brothel-owners have fought back ferociously against Somaly: They've sent death threats, held a gun to her head and shot up her car.


''We all know that our lives are in danger,'' she says, a little too cavalierly. ''I've never been so happy in my life. They can kill me now.''


When Somaly refused to back off, she said the traffickers kidnapped her 14-year-old daughter and gang-raped the girl with a video camera rolling. The daughter was recovered in a brothel, and Somaly blames herself. It's a credit to the courage of mother and daughter that they remain steadfast, upbeat and close, and determined to make a difference. These days, Somaly is very careful with that daughter and her other children.


The three unmarked police cars ahead of us pulled up in front of the brothel, and the police and prosecutor ran in. Somaly and I followed and watched as police with assault rifles confiscated cellphones from the brothel manager, a middle-aged woman, and her male partner, so that they couldn't call for reinforcements.


We quickly found five girls and one young woman, three Cambodians and three  Vietnamese. The youngest turned out to be a seventh grader trafficked from Vietnam three months earlier, making her about 12 years old.


The anti-trafficking police found 10 rooms equipped with beds and full of discarded condoms in the trash; the rooms all locked with padlocks from the outside, presumably to incarcerate girls inside. Several other young girls Somaly had photographed in her earlier visit couldn't be found, despite a frantic search of all the locked rooms. ''They're probably kept at another house in town, but we don't know where it is,'' Somaly said.


Soon the mood turned ugly. The brothel-owning family had strong military  connections, and the man was wearing the uniform of a senior military officer.  Someone inside the brothel must have called in reinforcements, and seven armed  soldiers soon arrived to order the police and prosecutor to release the military  officer. The prosecutor responded with courage and integrity. He declared that the military officer would have to be taken to the police station. ''If you want to stop me, you can shoot me if you dare,'' he told the soldiers.


The soldiers backed down, but, in the end, the army officer was not charged. The woman, who had more day-to-day involvement in managing the girls, is expected to be prosecuted, and the brothel presumably will now be out of operation. The girls were placed in a shelter run by Somaly, and they are receiving plenty of love from other girls previously extricated from sexual slavery.


That's how the battle against human trafficking is being fought around the world. Ultimately, the way to end this scourge is to make it less profitable and more risky for the traffickers. Above all, that means targeting not the girls but putting traffickers and pimps in jail, whether in Cambodia or in New York.


Slowly, that is happening. I can see the progress here in Cambodia, where 10-year-old girls were openly for sale when I began reporting on forced prostitution. Now they're still sold, but fewer of them, and more discreetly -- and traffickers are going to jail. There may well be prostitution a century from now, but we don't have to accept 12-year-olds being raped until they get AIDS.


In the 19th century, the world conquered traditional slavery. And in this century, with leaders like Somaly, we can emancipate the victims of human trafficking.



Citation of this Article


“Fighting Back, One Brothel Raid at a Time.” New York Times 13 Nov. 2011, Late Edition - Final ed., sec. SR: 11. LexisNexis Scholastic Edition. Web. 23 Dec. 2011. <‌scholastic/‌document?_m=41d6a9e0caa7cd21ea4f1246e7cbdf93&_docnum=1&wchp=dGLbVzt-zSkVk&_md5=e69fa30ef74808d5ea52317a2dc8f4bc>.

No comment yet.
Scooped by Karlee Wroblewski.Leah Wisniewski!

About Somaly Mam Foundation

About Somaly Mam Foundation | Somaly Mam |
Somaly Mam Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting the $12billion per year sex-trafficking industry.


Browse the website to see more about the foundation. There is so much information here that makes this source invaluable.

No comment yet.
Scooped by Karlee Wroblewski.Leah Wisniewski!

The Road to Lost Innocence

The Road to Lost Innocence | Somaly Mam |

The Road to Lost Innocence is an in depth biography of Somaly's life. 

No comment yet.
Scooped by Karlee Wroblewski.Leah Wisniewski!

In Somaly's Words

In Somaly's Words | Somaly Mam |

“I’ve committed my life to fighting this horrible scourge on humanity. Seeing innocent young women and children whose lives have been forever scarred leaves no doubt that they need a champion who is willing to invest all their time and energy towards eradicating the shameful practice of human trafficking. I cannot wage this fight alone and call upon anyone who cares about the innocent victims to donate their time, money and advocacy to this important cause. Each contribution means everything to the victims and know that I will be forever grateful for those who help make such an important difference.”

Danica Marie Fread's curator insight, June 25, 2013 11:19 PM

This woman is such an inspiration to me! 

Scooped by Karlee Wroblewski.Leah Wisniewski!

Mam's Key Attributes to Success

Written By Karlee and Leah


In three words, Somaly Mam can be described as fearless, determined, and brave. Without any of these three qualities Somaly wouldn’t have been able to survive her adolescence, much less live to become a hero in the eyes of thousands of people throughout the world. Her fearlessness has allowed Somaly to overcome threats and danger in order to help free and protect enslaved women, including herself. Determination is a key characteristic in Somaly’s success. Somaly’s life has been wrought with horrors that would leave the average person defeated and hollow. Somaly’s determination, however, has allowed her to persevere and fight against those who hurt and abused her in an attempt to eradicate sex trafficking in the 21st century world. Though being fearless may be considered the same as being brave, I think that there needs to be an important emphasis on this quality. Fearlessness is the ability to face something down that endangers you, whereas courageousness and braveness is the ability to willingly face your own fears and past horrors, as Somaly does everyday working as a human rights activist for sex trafficking.

No comment yet.
Scooped by Karlee Wroblewski.Leah Wisniewski!

CNN Heroes - Somaly Mam

CNN Heroes - Somaly Mam...


Somaly Mam is recognized by CNN for her ability to help so many and change lives. This short movie gives you a glimpse into Somaly's soul and the heart of the issue.


No comment yet.
Scooped by Karlee Wroblewski.Leah Wisniewski!

Former Sex Slave Leads Rescue of Others

Former Sex Slave Leads Rescue of Others | Somaly Mam |

Annotation: The article focuses on not only the movement of Somaly Mam, but on the following around her. The US goverment has gotten involved. Ultimately Mam is doing more than just creating an organization, she is changing the thoughts and creating action in those around her.


Written by Bruce Finley


Working as a teenage sex slave in a Cambodian brothel, Somaly Mam says, she served up to 30 clients a night. Some hit her. "I never thought, just lived hour by hour. I played with nothing. In my head: nothing. It was dark, dark, dark. I never trusted people," Mam said Friday during a visit to Denver.


"I was dead."


She tried suicide, she said.


Her turning point: the day a brothel pimp fired a bullet through the head of her friend, Srymom, who dared refuse customers - a warning to other girls to obey. Mam said she then began trying to help a newcomer, a girl with dark skin like hers, eventually using the brothel keys to set her free.


Brothel owners soon released Mam, deeming her too old for Cambodia's booming sex trade.


Ever since, Mam has been arranging rescues of child sex slaves, more than 4,000 over the past decade. The group she formed - Acting for Women in Distressing Situations - counsels and rehabilitates them at shelters in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.


Now Mam and two former U.S. Air Force Academy cadets, Nic Lumpp and Jared  Greenberg, are launching a private U.S. effort to fight the multibillion-dollar sex trade that governments and police have been unable to kill.


Based in Denver, the Somaly Mam Foundation ( has raised $400,000 and aims to collect $1 million by July, thanks to corporate and celebrity backers such as actress Susan Sarandon.


"We need the United States. Americans are more active," Mam said. Cambodia's own efforts to combat the sex trade have been crippled by corruption of police and courts.


A preview of the film "Holly" tonight at Denver's Starz Film Center, continuing through next week, is designed to help publicize the effort. A fundraiser has been set for next week in New York. And Mam's published account of her slavery, "The Road of Lost Innocence," is scheduled for release this fall.


After graduating from the Air Force Academy in 2005, Lumpp and Greenberg  resolved to do something about the global sex trade.


"It outraged us," said Lumpp, 25. "We couldn't just stand by and talk about it. It's a blatant disregard for human life."


Greenberg now works as a management consultant in Los Angeles, and Lumpp runs a Denver-based Web business that helps parents teach children financial skills.


They discovered Mam's work and sent her e-mails. She received those with great skepticism, she said, and told the Americans to come to Cambodia if they wanted to help. They visited for 10 days last year. Mam said she still doubted them, suspecting they were sex tourists or pedophiles.


Meeting them at the airport, "I looked at them thinking: They are young. If they have commitment, that's good. I don't think they are pedophiles."


She brought them to one of her 60-person shelters and watched them carefully as they met recently rescued girls. "I wanted to see their attitude," Mam said.


Lumpp and Greenberg played games. They worked with interpreters to ask the girls and young women questions. Lumpp said they noticed those in Mam's shelters  aspired to become educated, whereas those in brothels seemed listless.


Mam said she saw the two crying. "I said to myself: 'We can trust them."'


"My staff said: You trust them? I said: Yes. They said: Why? I said: I just do. Normally I never trust men."


The foundation's approach is twofold: Campaign to stop foreign sex tourists and others from entering Southeast Asia in the first place, and fund continued rescues and rehab for girls and young women at shelters in Cambodia and neighboring countries.


Today sex-trade owners seek younger girls, as young as 4, said Mam, who was sold from her village into slavery around age 12 after a "grandfather" used her as a household servant.


U.S. diplomats have visited the 60-person shelters, where girls receive counseling, medical care, basic education and training on sewing machines. U.S. officials quietly offered her protection, Mam said. But leaving Cambodia is out of the question. "My heart is with these girls," she said.


Citation of this Article


Finley, Bruce. “Former Sex Slave Leads Rescue of Others.” Denver Post 6 Apr. 2008, Final ed.: B-03. LexisNexis Scholastic Edition. Web. 23 Dec. 2011. <‌scholastic/‌document?_m=41d6a9e0caa7cd21ea4f1246e7cbdf93&_docnum=11&wchp=dGLbVzt-zSkVk&_md5=ad654c5ccbdbb799850e4a442ef024e3>.

No comment yet.
Scooped by Karlee Wroblewski.Leah Wisniewski!

Saving Girls Who are Made into Sex Slaves

Annotation: An interview with Somaly Mam can be seen below. There is no way to better understand a person or their goals than to listen to their own words. This article is a perfect way for one to understand her passion and strong attributes that caused her to become a changemaker.


Written by Suk Wai Chen


THERE can be no greater pain for a mother than when her child is kidnapped,  drugged and gang-raped. Former Cambodian child prostitute Somaly Mam, 39, knows this. Her elder daughter Melissa suffered this ordeal in 2006, when she was 14.


In the past 13 years, Ms Mam and her helpers have rescued more than 5,000 sex  slaves. About 1 in 40 girls in Cambodia is born into the sex trade and between
1.2 million and two million of the country's 13.4 million people are sex slaves


With help from patrons such as Queen Sofia of Spain and global corporation  LexisNexis, Ms Mam feeds, shelters and trains these prostitutes so they can eke out a living as weavers, hairdressers or tailors.


The divorced mother of three was in town last month to attend the Children & The Law conference in Singapore. Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong said of her in his keynote speech: 'In highlighting the evils of the sexual exploitation of children, I think no one has spoken with a more powerful voice than Ms Somaly Mam.'


In 1993, this wisp of a woman fled Cambodia with the help of a Swiss aid worker. But by 1996, she was back to found the Agir Pour Les Femmes En Situation Precaire (Acting For Women In Distressing Circumstances). This CNN Hero and Time  Magazine's Top 100 icon has been showered with many accolades.


Next month, Ms Mam will send off seven of her rehabilitated girls to study at the University of Colorado in the United States. She spoke to The Straits Times of her hopes and fears:


From where do you get your strength?


From the victims. They have been raped and yet they try to stand up, go to school, laugh again and love you. Sometimes, I run out of energy. But when I see them, it's like zzzzhhhht! - getting an electric charge from them.


What can people do about human trafficking?


I just want everyone to pay attention to it. Whenever we pass a red-light district and see the women, we...look down on them. I want (people) to ask themselves: 'Why are they in brothels? Where do they come from?'


How well are you bearing up in all this?


I can laugh and tell you that we have to enjoy life. But then I go home. I close my eyes. I remember everything.


Why does the abuse of women seem so much more pronounced in Cambodia?


For 30 years, we were fighting the Khmer Rouge. We now have poor people who are suffering a lot.


Under the Khmer Rouge, we used no money. Then in 1992, the UNTAG (United  Nations Transition Assistance Group) came in blue cars. They were all men far away from home, on US $100 per diem and they missed sex. So they bought women. The parents (of these women) had never seen US $1; now they saw US $100.


What is your government doing?


It tries its best. Now we have a (human) trafficking law, but it's too late for the country.


Why is it too late?


Organised crime is well-organised. Not us.


What do you do without such commitment?


We go to the community, schools and the police to talk about our lives. We survivors are part of the solution.


Where is the hope in hopeless situations like these?


Everywhere. People are so great.


Where was hope when you were a prostitute?


In a brothel, you feel everything is darkness. You never even try to escape because why would you want to do so? Your life (would be) finished. Who would help you? (But) I have been lucky to meet great people.


But you also met thugs, like those who raped Melissa.


I feel so sorry for her. Every day, I feel, 'S***. That is me. How (could) I let my children suffer like this?' But she says: 'I would like not to have been raped. But I am luckier (than my rapists) because you (and other people) love me.'


How do you reach the girls enslaved in brothels?


We go to the brothels and give the girls there condoms and hygiene tips. Then we take them to our clinic... The pimps come too but they have to sit outside. We have psychologists, counsellors and (lawyers) talk to the girls. We also have many girls who inform us (of incoming) children and clients. Then we investigate.


How much has your beauty been a curse as well as a blessing?


In my society, I'm not beautiful. Cambodians like white skin. I'm so dark. But I had a better life because beautiful girls had to accept more clients.


What is the biggest problem about human trafficking?


Discrimination - between rich and poor, men and women, normal girls and trafficked girls. That pushes girls back into brothels.


How do you make them brave enough to say no?


We empower them to talk because Cambodian women don't talk much.



Citation of this Article


Suk-Wai, Cheong. “Saving Girls Who Are Made into Sex Slaves.” Straits Times (Singapore) 4 June 2009: n. pag. LexisNexis Scholastic Edition. Web. 23 Dec. 2011. <‌scholastic/‌document?_m=41d6a9e0caa7cd21ea4f1246e7cbdf93&_docnum=8&wchp=dGLbVzt-zSkVk&_md5=828db7e972740bcdc81be078bb2a9a59>.

No comment yet.
Scooped by Karlee Wroblewski.Leah Wisniewski!

Of Human Bondage; Somaly Mam Escaped Years of Sexual Slavery, But Not the Burden of Helping Others Do the Same

Of Human Bondage; Somaly Mam Escaped Years of Sexual Slavery, But Not the Burden of Helping Others Do the Same | Somaly Mam |

Annotation: This article at large describes more of Mam's foundations she has developed and what they do specifically. Like some of our earlier research, this website gives other biographical information that provides a reader with a more absolute view of who Mam is and where she is coming from.


Written By David Montgomery


For so long, silence equaled survival for Somaly Mam -- when she was raped in her Cambodian village at 12; forced to marry at 14; sold into a brothel in Phnom Penh at 16; raped, beaten and tortured more times than she can remember by the clients and pimps until she escaped that world at about 21.


The ages are approximate. She doesn't know how old she is. ("Maybe 37. Maybe 38. Maybe younger.") She never knew her parents in the deep mountain forest of her childhood, where she felt safe talking only to the trees.


Along the way, somehow she learned not to be silent. That is the most extraordinary part of her shocking life's journey, an achievement she still cannot fully explain. Her hard-earned ability to speak out has helped her rescue 4,000 girls and women from brothels in the last decade. It has helped her build one of the largest nongovernmental organizations in Cambodia, with 150 employees, sheltering 220 women and girls in that country, with more in shelters in Vietnam and Laos. And earlier this month it brought her to Capitol Hill to urge members of Congress to pass a law against human trafficking.


"What can we do to help you?" asked Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), receiving Mam in her office.


"Your pressure can help," Mam replied, saying that the United States can be an example to Cambodia and other countries where trafficking is rampant.


A bill to bolster an existing anti-trafficking statute has passed the House and is before the Senate. About 2 million people a year are trapped in sexual bondage or labor servitude as a result of trafficking, including thousands in the United States, according to the State Department.


After visiting congressional offices and addressing the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, Mam planned to travel across the country promoting her autobiography, "The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine," and to raise money for her foundation, the Somaly Mam Foundation (


Her small entourage included two women who work with her in Cambodia and two executives of LexisNexis, which has taken up her cause as part of the corporation's philanthropic support for international "rule-of-law" projects. Her work has been supported by the United Nations, and in 1998 she was awarded Spain's Prince of Asturias Award along with six other women's rights activists. Her work was praised by the State Department in its 2005 annual report on human trafficking.


Mam's voice is soft and shy, as if even after nearly two decades of activism she were still getting used to speaking up. Her matter-of-fact accounts, delivered in halting, imperfect English, leave her listeners shaken.


"They rape them for one week, the virgins," Mam tells Schakowsky.


The clients believe having sex with a virgin confers all sorts of benefits, even curing AIDS, Mam explains. The men -- from lowly Cambodian taxi drivers to foreign sex tourists -- assume the youngest children must be virgins, so there is a lucrative market for ever-younger girls. The girls Mam rescues are as young as 4, sold into prostitution by their families.


"Oh my God, it takes your breath away," Schakowsky says.


"Sometimes the women themselves, they think that it is normal that they have been sold in a brothel," Mam tells her. "It's like me. Before, I think it's normal that I have been sold. . . . I never knew that I had rights."


"Where do you find that courage?" Schakowsky asks Mam -- which is another way of probing the central mystery of her life: How did she discover she had rights? Where did she find her voice?


There was no Somaly Mam to help Somaly Mam. How did Somaly Mam help herself?
How did she learn to banish silence?


She was born in about 1970 or 1971 in a village inhabited by a dark-skinned mountain tribe that was scorned by the lowland Khmer. The upheaval of the Vietnam War was followed by the murderous strife of Pol Pot's dictatorship. Her parents disappeared, then so did her grandmother.


She was a child on her own in a culture where children are "a kind of domestic livestock," she writes, and where "there is only one law for women: silence before rape and silence after."


"I remember one day I have been raped by a man," she says in an interview while awaiting Schakowsky's return from a vote in Congress. "I just want to run away home. I want to talk to people, have them to know. But when I need people to help me, no one help me. So I keep silence."


A man who claimed to be her grandfather enslaved her as a servant in his house. Then he sent her to a brothel. There, she says, her will was broken. She stopped feeling, stopped caring or hoping. But she found she still cared for the new girls arriving all the time -- girls who were still alive inside.


What saved her was the possibility of saving others. She could speak up for them, even if she did not feel worthy to speak up for herself.


"I think that experience make me stand up," she continues, tears coming to her eyes. "Something happen to me I didn't want to happen to the girls. I didn't want to happen to another one. Because it's not easy to survive it."


Mam began by helping a pair of new girls from the country escape the Phnom Penh brothel where Mam herself was a prisoner, working to pay off the debt owed by her "grandfather" to the brothel owner. Then Mam was lucky enough to be picked up by a client who was a Swiss humanitarian worker. He was yet another john, but he was not violent, and he eventually gave her a present of enough money to help out more girls.


Mam met more foreigners, and in about 1991 became the girlfriend of a French relief worker who spoke fluent Khmer, and whom she eventually married. She got work cleaning houses and hotels. Her husband respected her more than she respected herself. She thought he was "crazy" to insist that she make her own decisions and "do whatever I want."


She learned to look people in the eye. She realized she had rights. She stopped keeping silent.


She and her husband had two children and adopted a third, but their marriage fell apart a few years ago.


In 2004, Mam and her staff helped launch a police raid against their biggest brothel target yet, a hotel in Phnom Penh where 200 women and girls worked. The owners had powerful connections. She and her staff received death threats. A mob of men broke into one of Mam's shelters and carried off 90 women and girls who had taken refuge there, she writes. Mam never saw them again.


A friend called her on the phone: "'You know you're going to die, Somaly. Run away.'" Mam refused to leave "my girls, my victims," as she calls them.


Instead, she spoke in French into a tape recorder for three days and sent the tapes to friends in France. She wanted her story told, in case anything ever did happen to her. A ghostwriter helped fashion her dictation into her autobiography, published in French in 2005, and updated for the English translation, released this month.


Sex trafficking is more organized than it was when she was in a brothel. Pimps are more systematic, recruiting girls from poor families and villages. The girls are shuffled from Cambodia to Vietnam and Thailand and back, to keep them isolated and more powerless.


"We save many, but we have many still in brothels," Mam says. "It's why in the nighttime I cannot sleep. Because when I close my eyes, I know exactly the time that the client come, I know exactly the time that they rape the girl, the time that the pimp hit us."


She has tried to understand the mentality of families that abet this system. She met a mother who went to a brothel to pick up the money her 10-year-old daughter earned there.


"I have a husband who beats me," the woman said, as Mam quotes her in the autobiography. "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."


The girls in Mam's shelters are given a chance to go to school and grow up. They are returned to their families only if it appears they will not be forced back into prostitution. Some die of AIDS in the shelters.


Leaving Schakowsky's office, Mam goes outside to a nearby fountain with pretty flowers. She and her Cambodian colleagues -- Sophea Chenda Chhun and Sylor Lin -- giggle and mug for a camera they have brought with them. The tears are gone from Mam's eyes, and all does not appear to be darkness in her life.


Yet, for all she has achieved, and learned how to say, she still struggles to believe she amounts to anything. "I still feel that I'm dirty and that I carry bad luck," she says in her book.


She wears a lot of perfume, and anyone standing near her on this day can smell it. She says the perfume is not enough to wash away the stench of the brothels that still haunts her. The better way to ward it off, she says, is her field work in Cambodia, her direct contact with fellow victims, who know what she means when she says she is dirty.


"It's insufferable," she writes. "The customers were dirty. They never showered. I remember one man with the most hideous breath. We had no toothpaste, but we would brush our teeth with ash or sand."


"I don't feel like I can change the world," she also writes. "I don't even try. I only want to change this small life that I see standing in front of me, which is suffering. I want to change this small real thing that is the destiny of one little girl. And then another, and another, because if I didn't, I wouldn't be able to live with myself or sleep at night."


When a new girl comes to the shelter, the activist who learned to speak up knows it is best not to use her voice then. The girl is too traumatized to speak. Mam sits with the girl, hugs her, holds her the way a mother might -- the way she wished someone had held her. She calls this silent communication "heart talking."


"Sometimes when you talk, you can say something that is not true," Mam says. "But the heart talking is true."


Citation of this Article

Montgomery, David. “Of Human Bondage; Somaly Mam Escaped Years of Sexual Slavery, but Not the Burden of Helping Others Do the Same.” Washington Post 22 Sept. 2008, Met 2 ed.: C01. LexisNexis Scholastic Edition. Web. 23 Dec. 2011. <‌scholastic/‌document?_m=41d6a9e0caa7cd21ea4f1246e7cbdf93&_docnum=10&wchp=dGLbVzt-zSkVk&_md5=1d88213e2bbee8f589d384633cff980c>.

No comment yet.
Scooped by Karlee Wroblewski.Leah Wisniewski!

Saving Girls From Sex Slavery

Annotation: Loh Keng Fatt describes the many threats and trials working against Mam in her effort to save others. During the course of the article, we also come to understand more about Mam's own struggle to escape and her journey to begninng her own programs.We found the article on Lexis-Nexis Scholastic Database.


Written by Loh Keng Fatt.


CAMBODIA is reportedly a draw for men looking for sex with girls as young as five.


Somaly Mam herself was raped at 12, forced to marry at 15 and then sold to a brothel by her husband. After years of abuse, she managed to escape.


She later became a midwife and went to France where she worked in a restaurant and met her second husband, whom she has since divorced.


In 1997, she co-founded AFESIP, the French name for which translates to Acting for Women in Distressing Situations. The objective was to help those trapped in sexual slavery.


She wrote about her experiences in The Road Of Lost Innocence, published last year. In this excerpt, Mam, 37, recounts the dangers of taking on ruthless sex syndicates.


'I BEGAN to receive threats. Men would phone our house in the middle of the night and threaten me or my family if I didn't stay at home. I received letters that said: 'Leave Phnom Penh or you will die.'


One day, when I was in the neighbourhood around the central market, a man drove alongside me on a big black motorcycle, the kind we call dog-bikes.


He held a pistol against my side and said: 'Leave. I won't kill you but somebody else will.'


I suppose he was a contract killer who had been hired to eliminate me but for some reason he didn't want to do it.


Perhaps I had helped his sister or some other girl he knew. So he warned me instead.


I took that warning seriously. It felt different from the threatening calls and letters. The cold metal feel of the gun against my skin was very real.


That evening, I locked everything, windows and doors. I began pacing around the house every night, waiting for the sounds that meant a gunman was outside.


I was most afraid for my family - for Ning and Adana. I didn't know what those people might do to my two little girls. I was becoming a bit unhinged.


Pierre said it was time to take a break. He took me and the children to Laos, where he had friends who could lend me a house. He said it was just for a while until things blew over.


In those days, Cambodians couldn't travel easily because they needed visas which were almost impossible to get.


But because I was married to a Frenchman, I was French and I could get a visa easily.


I left the AFESIP shelter in the hands of my mother and she and my adoptive father came to the airport to wave me goodbye.


The night before I left, I wrote a letter to the Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. It was like throwing a needle into a pile of dried rice stalks - I thought it was hopeless.


But I was angry and I needed to tell someone in authority that this should not be happening.


I said the traffickers had threatened to roast my baby like a chicken and that I should not be driven out of my country in fear of my life because I wanted to improve the lives of women who were being kept and traded as slaves.


The night we arrived in Laos, I had a dream. I saw my adoptive parents' house in Thloc Chhroy burning.


I woke Pierre and told him: 'We have to go home.' He was irritated. He told me to stop behaving like a superstitious old Khmer witch.


'Try to live in reality,' he snapped at me. Still, he promised that when he got back to Cambodia, he would find out whether anything had happened.


My adoptive mother was at the airport when he arrived and he could see that she was very upset. He said: 'What's going on - has the house burned down or something?' and she started to cry.


The evening I left Phnom Penh, someone went to Thloc Chhroy and put petrol all round the house where my adoptive parents lived.


They burned it down with everything inside. I suppose they assumed that if I wasn't in Phnom Penh, I had gone there.


Perhaps they watched my car drive away from my house, with the children and the luggage, and figured out that must be where we had gone.


It took just 10 minutes for the house to burn down to nothing. Because they had gone to the airport to see me off, my adoptive parents weren't inside.


However, there was an elderly man there, looking after the house because it didn't have a proper lock. The neighbours pulled him out of the blaze.


He was hospitalised but he never fully recovered.


I now knew that the threats against me were real. But I couldn't stop my work. I was in danger but so were thousands of girls in brothels. I was safe, in Laos, but they were not.


Then I received a response to my letter to the Prime Minister. Hun Sen wrote that the police were investigating the arson and he asked me to continue my work.


I decided to return to Phnom Penh. The holiday in Laos had done me good. It calmed me down. I vowed to be more careful in the future and I hired a driver who was a former policeman to be my bodyguard.


This Article is from:

Keng Fatt, Loh. “Saving Girls from Sex Slavery.” Strait Times 31 Jan. 2008: n. pag. LexisNexis Scholastic Edition. Web. 23 Dec. 2011. <‌scholastic/‌document?_m=41d6a9e0caa7cd21ea4f1246e7cbdf93&_docnum=13&wchp=dGLbVzt-zSkVk&_md5=bc706986bdeb962c760a66eda59aa65b>.

No comment yet.