Global Leadership Awards
Born into the poverty and chaos of Cambodia in the 1970s, Somaly Mam was sold into a life of sexual slavery as a young teenager. With other young girls, Somaly was forced to work in a brothel, suffering daily beatings, torture, rape and humiliation at the hands of her bosses and clients. After witnessing the murder of a close friend by a pimp, Somaly managed to escape from the brothels.
While others may have escaped never to look back, Somaly has returned to the brothels voluntarily and repeatedly. She has made it her life’s work to rescue other girls and young women from lives of sexual slavery.
Somaly has been at the forefront of fighting human trafficking in Asia. In 1997, she co-founded the non-governmental organization AFESIP (Agir pour les Femmes en Situation Précaire / “Acting for Women in Distressing Circumstances”), which employs holistic victim services and sustained mentorship to rescue, rehabilitate and reintegrate girls who are forced into prostitution.
By bringing attention to the scourge of human trafficking, Somaly shares with the world her personal story while advocating for strengthened criminal laws, increased services for survivors, and greater cooperation among advocates and officials. Somaly has personally organized raids on brothels and brought girls as young as four to her shelters where they are given the care, education and training they need to rebuild their lives.
Despite continued threats against her life and her family, Somaly has persevered in her mission, rescuing girls one by one, but also working to bring public and international pressure to punish and put brothel owners out of business. Today, AFESIP has expanded to Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. Somaly continues her work through the U.S.-based Somaly Mam Foundation.