Sex Trafficking: One Woman's Journey

Speaking in Hong Kong on April 18, 2011, Somaly Mam describes her advocacy work on behalf of sex trafficking victims. (2 min., 20 sec.)

HONG KONG, April 18, 2011 - For Somaly Mam, the Cambodian human rights advocate who has made it her life's mission to help sex trafficking victims, simply making a donation is not enough to make a difference. Speaking to the Asia Society Hong Kong Center, she noted: "It's not just money. It's about capacity building. It's easy to send money but what do you do when that runs out."

Speaking to an audience deeply moved by her own experience and the stories of the girls she has saved from sexual slavery, Mam urged: "If you want to help, start with one. Save one before you save many."

Her own story, chronicled in the book The Road of Lost Innocence (2005), is a grim tale marked by fear, betrayal and trauma. To this day, Mam does not who her parents are, her real name, her birthday, or even how old she is. She recalled how as a little girl, the person she most trusted betrayed her, selling her again and again to brothels. "What hurts me the most is not having parents. I have longed to have a mother to talk to."

Working from brothel to brothel, she recounted how she survived that dark period, the toll it took on her emotional health, and the road to recovery after intervention by a Swiss man whom she now refers to as her brother.

Yet despite escaping, there is still immense sadness and pain. "Each time I talk about my story, I cannot sleep," she said. "Your life is completely broken when you become a victim."

Mam encourages people to visit her rehabilitation centers in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos, which each house approximately 250 girls, and to help nurture the girls. "You have to take care of the girls as part of your family. Don't take care of them as though they are victims," she said. "If you don't have the capacity for that, then don't do it."

Mam established Acting for Women in Distressing Situation (AFESIP) in 1996 and the Somaly Mam Foundation in 2007. She was named CNN Hero and Glamour magazine's Woman of the Year and one of TIME magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World for her humanitarian efforts, which have so far rescued over 6,000 women.

According to Mam, more than 75 per cent of sexual slavery victims are female, some as young as three. Human trafficking remains one of the most profitable international crimes. "This is a worldwide problem. People think that just because it is 2011 that it doesn't happen anymore. It still happens," she said.

Reported by Blue Carreon, Asia Society Hong Kong Center