Somaly Mam

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Somaly Mam
Somaly Mam.jpg
Born 1970 or 1971 (?)[Note 1]
Mondulkiri , Cambodia
Nationality Cambodian
Occupation Human rights activist
Known for Anti-Sex trafficking, Philanthropy

Somaly Mam (b. 1970 or 1971) is a Cambodian author and human rights advocate who focuses primarily on sex trafficking.

Early life[edit]

Somaly Mam does not have any birth records showing when she was born or who her parents were, though she was born to a tribal minority family in Mondulkiri Province, Cambodia. In her memoir, The Road of Lost Innocence, she states that she was born in either 1970 or 1971.[1]:2 In the mid-1970s, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge terrorized Cambodia and drove thousands of people into the countryside. Essentially orphaned, Mam lived in a small Pnong village until a man picked her up and promised to find her father.[1] She became his indentured servant or slave. Mam was instructed to call him "grandfather" because it's a sign of respect to the elderly.[1]:7

Mam was abused by her "grandfather" until she was approximately 14, when she was sold to a brothel and forced into prostitution. She was also forced to marry a stranger.[2] Her husband was a fighter in the Khmer Rouge, who beat and raped her.[1]:34 She was forced to prostitute herself on the streets and made to have sex with five or six clients per day.[3] When Mam would not have sex with a client, she would be locked up, tortured, raped, and threatened with death; she claims she was forced to watch her best friend being viciously murdered.[1]:42–45[4] Fearing she would meet that same fate, Somaly escaped her captors and set about building a new life for herself.[4]


In 1993 an aid worker from France found Mam and helped her escape Cambodia.[5] She moved to Paris and eventually married a French citizen, but returned to Cambodia to help women caught in similar situations she experienced.

Mam served as a nurse from Médecins Sans Frontières and, in her spare time, handed out condoms, soap, and information to women in the brothels. In 1996, she founded AFESIP (Agir pour les Femmes en Situation Precaire or Acting for Women in Distressing Situations), a Cambodian NGO dedicated to rescuing, housing and rehabilitating women and children in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam who have been sexually exploited.[6] AFESIP conducts outreach work to try helping the women still enslaved. The organization also works with law enforcement to raid the brothels. Mam has saved over 4,000 women from sexual slavery.[5] Her sanctuaries are in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.[6]

In June 2007, Mam co-founded the Somaly Mam Foundation, which officially launched in September 2007. The Somaly Mam Foundation is a nonprofit organization formed in the United States that supports anti-trafficking groups and helps women and girls who have been forced into sexual slavery.[7] Since its creation in 2007, the Somaly Mam Foundation (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. Growing out of Somaly Mam’s Phnom Penh-based organization Agir Pour Les Femmes en Situation Precaire (Afesip), which was launched in 1996 to care for child victims of the sex industry, SMF is the global fundraising arm of the Cambodian NGO.[8]


A first public unravelling of Ms. Mam’s credibility came in the form of doubt around some comments she made at the United Nations. Speaking on a U.N. panel to member states, international aid organizations and the media in New York on April 3, Ms. Mam stated that eight girls had been killed after her organization, Afesip, conducted a high profile raid on a massage parlor at the Chai Hour II Hotel in Phnom Penh, where 83 women and girls were taken and placed in her refuge center. Somaly Mam has since admitted that this was “inaccurate” and that the Cambodian army had not killed eight girls.

Further shadows fell on Ms. Mam's credibility on April 25, 2012 as she had to respond to claims by her ex-husband and one-time Afesip director Pierre Legros, that she had misrepresented an incident involving their daughter in 2004. Ms. Mam had long claimed that the teenager was kidnapped and suffered serious abuse at the hands of human traffickers in retaliation for her raid on the Chai Hour II Hotel. In her 2007 autobiography, Ms. Mam wrote that the people involved in the kidnapping of her daughter were released from jail, though a trial was pending. Mr. Legros said their daughter was not kidnapped, but had run away with her boyfriend, and that in his view the abduction story was a means to “marketing for the Somaly Mam Foundation.” The then U.S. Ambassador, Joseph Mussomeli, wrote in a diplomatic cable in 2004 that Afesip reported that Ms. Mam’s daughter had been “lured by her peers” to Battambang province, where she was later found in a night club in the company of three men who were arrested and charged with trafficking.

And in October 2013, more scandal arrived as reports of crucial but dishonest testimonies arose in the press. The alleged deception took place in January 1998, when Ms. Mam was propelled from relative obscurity into the international media spotlight largely owing to the on-camera testimony of the young Meas Ratha and other alleged victims of Cambodia’s child sex industry. Ms. Mam’s work as president of her own Phnom Penh-based NGO, Agir Pour Les Femmes en Situation Precaire (Afesip), was being featured on French television as part of the popular weekly show Envoyé Spécial. The documentary opens with the camera lens focused on Ms. Ratha, then a teenager of about 14 years from Takeo province. Ms. Mam is seen seated at the young girl’s side as she tells a dismal story of sexual slavery in an unspecified brothel somewhere in Phnom Penh. Sixteen years later Ms. Ratha (now 32 years old and married) stated that her testimony for the France 2 channel was fabricated and scripted for her by Ms. Mam as a means of drumming up support for the organization. “The video that you see, everything that I put in is not my story,” were the words of Ms. Ratha.[9]

International recognition and awards[edit]

Glamour Woman of the Year[edit]

Glamour magazine named Somaly Mam “Woman of the Year” in 2006. The feature story was given to Mariane Pearl, a columnist for Glamour. Pearl visited Cambodia to meet with Somaly and see the destruction caused to young girls that are forced into prostitution and brothels.[16]

In popular culture[edit]

2013 Indian malayalam Movie thira was inspired from the book The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine by Somaly Mam


  • The Road of Lost Innocence[17]


  1. ^ Her memoir, The Road of Lost Innocence, states that she was born in either 1970 or 1971; the exact date is unknown.


  1. ^ a b c d e Mam, Somaly (September 9, 2008). The Road of Lost Innocence. United States: Random House Publishing. pp. 2–45. ISBN 978-0-385-52621-0 (0-385-52621-0) Check |isbn= value (help). 
  2. ^ "Stolen Innocence". November 19, 2005. 
  3. ^ Hosking, Patrick; Wighton, David (December 4, 2005). "A Life in the Day: Somaly Mam". London: The Sunday Times (U.K.). Retrieved October 7, 2010. 
  4. ^ a b c "Change-Maker in Women’s History: Somaly Mam". March 27, 2009. Retrieved October 7, 2010. 
  5. ^ a b c "Somaly Mam". Time Magazine. April 30, 2009. Retrieved October 7, 2010. 
  6. ^ a b "Rescuing Child Sex Workers". PBS. February 12, 2010. Retrieved October 7, 2010. 
  7. ^ "Somaly Mam". Retrieved October 7, 2010. 
  8. ^ Simon Marks in Cambodia Daily October 13, 2013
  9. ^ Simon Marks and Phorn Bopha in Cambodia Daily October 12, 2013
  10. ^ "Honorary Degrees". Regis University. Retrieved October 7, 2010. 
  11. ^ Simon Marks in Cambodia Daily April 26, 2012
  12. ^ Cambodian activist who rescues sex slaves wins World's Children's Prize, International Herald Tribune, (AP), April 16, 2008
  13. ^ "Somaly Mam from Cambodia is the first winner of the Roland Berger Award". Roland Berger Stiftung. Retrieved 16 September 2011. 
  14. ^ Saner, Emine (March 8, 2011). "Somaly Mam". London: The Guardian. 
  15. ^ "Women in the World: Somaly Mam, Cambodia". The Daily Beast. 
  16. ^ Pearl, Mariane. "Global Diary Cambodia: The Sex Slave Tragedy". Glamour. Retrieved 19 September 2011. 
  17. ^ "The Road of Lost Innocence". 

External links[edit]