“She was eight years old, with the body of a child, but her spirit was weighed down by an adult suffering.”
― Somaly Mam
Global human trafficking is the second largest and fastest-growing organized crime in the world. There are an estimated 21 million people enslaved today, 4.5 million of which are in the sex industry. The low end estimate for the number of sex slaves in Cambodia alone is over 40 thousand. At least 1 in 40 girls in Cambodia will be sold into sex slavery. Somaly Mam was a victim herself, sold into a brothel at a very young age and forced to endure unimaginable traumas.
Somaly Mam, a former Cambodian sex slave, is no longer keeping silent. More than a survivor, she is a human rights crusader, saving girls from brothels and giving them a new life. She is a global leader now, who has pioneered the movement against modern slavery for nearly two decades. Universally recognized as a visionary for her bravery, dignity, and ingenuity, Somaly has been honored as a CNN hero, Glamour Magazine’s Woman of the Year, and one of Time Magazine’s most influential people.
In 1996, Somaly established a Cambodian non-governmental organization called AFESIP. Under Somaly’s leadership, AFESIP ensures that victims are not only to escape their plight, but have the emotional and economic strength to face the future with hope. With the launch of the Somaly Mam Foundation (SMF) in 2007, Somaly has started a funding medium to support anti-trafficking organizations and to provide victims and survivors with a platform from which their voices can be heard around the world. Somaly estimates that she and her team have assisted over 7,000 victims to date.
SMF has attracted top U.S. business leaders and Hollywood stars to the worthy cause of combating the trafficking of children into Cambodia’s sex industry. SMF supports the entire process of healing a survivor from rescue and recovery to rehabilitation and reintegration. The Foundation supports over ten shelters in four countries, providing resources and funding to victim services providers. These organizations provide survivors of human trafficking with food, shelter, and medical and psychological care. SMF supports education and vocational training programs to prepare survivors for reintegration to mainstream society. Survivors are given access to primary and secondary education, and beyond if they wish to do so. These skills are valuable for survivors to thrive and maintain lives of dignity. Young women have opened businesses, hold steady employment, and have even gotten married. In Cambodia, teams visit reintegrated survivors to check in and make sure that all is well with them in their new empowered lives.
Through her work as a tireless advocate and human rights leader, Somaly Mam has made it her life’s mission to eradicate slavery and empower these women and girls, provide them with solutions, give them a voice and a choice in their lives—and to ultimately end slavery and exploitation. SMF gives us hope for the future, where impactful next-generation changes will be created along with a society that says no more to the oppression of women and girls.
“I strongly believe that love is the answer and that it can mend even the deepest unseen wounds. Love can heal, love can console, love can strengthen, and yes, love can make change.”
― Somaly Mam.