Somaly Mam grows up as a victim.
Somaly endured horrific treatment as a child after being forced into the child sex trafficking in Cambodia. She was born about 1970-71 in a rural forest village in Cambodia. When she was a young child, her parents abandoned her. She somehow survived through her own resilience and a little help from the villagers. At about age ten -twelve, she became the slave of an older man she called “grandfather” He beat and tortured her whenever she displeased him. One day grandfather took her to the big city, Phnom Penh, to visit “Aunty”. This was no visit! Somaly was sold into slavery in a filthy brothel and told to obey Aunty. She was twelve years old.
Along with many other young girls, Somaly was forced into prostitution and subjected to violent beatings by her clients. These girls were often punished by the most horrific means when they didn’t obey the brothel owners. The girls often lost their sense of self and any feeling of being loved. They became broken-down children. At age sixteen, Somaly managed to escape, but she said in her memoir, The Road of Lost Innocence “I had been a prostitute in Phnom Penh for four years, and I didn’t know how to get out of the whole system. I wanted to, but in my mind I was trapped. I wasn’t worth anything.”
Learning skills and developing a meaning of life
While living on the streets, she met a foreign worker from France. Pierre was kind and generous to her and they eventually married. She spent eighteen months in France, learned French and worked at respectable jobs. When she and Pierre returned to Cambodia, Somaly felt more whole and no longer just like damaged goods. She began volunteering at a medical clinic. She helped take care of some of the children and young girls who were brought in from the brothels.
Strong need to help the young victims of prostitution
As she continued to help the young victims, she felt a compulsion to form a bond with them, show them love and try to rescue them and help them mend. She felt she was able to do this. After all she had “been there”
Somaly began to assess the needs of the girls in the brothels and find ways to help them. She was willing to give them a way out. She knew they would need education, advice about HIV and AIDS, and a safe place to live if they escaped or were rescued. She set up training for learning such skills as seamstress work and hair design so they could earn a respectable living. But most of all, they needed love, understanding and support. Somaly wrote in her book, “I felt like I couldn’t change the world – but I could change one little life and then another and then another.”
Co-founds charity- AFESIP (Acting for Women in Distressing Situations)
This charity provided a place for the girls to go that was safe. In addition, Somaly continued to go to the brothels to help the girls and encourage them to escape. She tried to work with the police (many of whom were corrupt) to try to resolve problems. She set up safe houses and job training sites as funds were donated.
Somaly has been a compassionate, hard-working and brave heroine. She has received many prestigious awards from many countries and has been featured on many TV programs and in magazines. She has pursued her work along with raising three children. Numerous times, her life has been in danger. We all should have the highest admiration for this remarkable woman and support her cause.
Somaly Mam, The Road of Lost Innocence, 20008