Saturday, July 24, 2010

Uppity Women #20

Survivor. Activist. Hero. Amazon.

Those are but a few words that can describe Somaly Mam.

Abandoned as a child in Cambodia, Mam was repeatedly raped and beaten prior to age 13 by a man who said that he would reunite her with her family. Instead, it got much, much worse. He sold her into the sex trade.

The sex trade in Southeast Asia is rife with child prostitution, child abuse, child murder and just about every brand of despicable that you can envision. And many, many things that you cannot. 

After witnessing her best friend sadistically murdered, Mam managed to escape. Rather than hide, she has been incredibly vocal. Downright LOUD.

One of the founders of AFESIP - Acting for Women in Distressing Situations , a nice little euphemism for women and girls who had been hideously trafficked into the sex trade, Mam has since formed her own private foundation. She doesn't back away, hang quiet and feel shame. She doesn't hide what people are doing to hundreds, thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Southeast Asian children and what was done to her, day after day for years. Some people travel to Southeast Asia to have sex with children. They even kill children doing it. And it is all part of a dark side to the Southeast Asian tourist industry that is simply beyond our imagining.

These children and young women are lucky if they survive and escape with their lives. But all too often, they escape with HIV.

Somaly's story has potency for me, not just because of her incredibly courageous work, her book and her vocalness, but because I personally know a child, or now a young woman, who was trafficked. And I know, too, of her friend, who died a harrowing death from HIV at age 16. I first read about Somaly in 2003 in an article in Marie Claire magazine. I've been an admirer ever since.

I really don't think that there are sufficient words to describe what Somaly and so many other young women and children have endured and indeed endure right now, as you read this post. Westerners flock to Bangkok, Phnom Penh and other places in Southeast Asia for the 'delight' of having sex with children and young women who have lost everything except their hope to escape. If you look at the statistics on her website, the number of women and children who are trafficked each year is simply horrifying. And many will not survive the experience.

Somaly is their savior. They help these women and children get away. And they'll teach them a trade, like weaving or jewelry-making or anything other than sex in order to give them a second chance at life.

You can order Somaly's book through her foundation's website and have a portion of the funds donated to They may not be slick and professional at her website shop, but they are 100% dedicated to accruing the funds to help any child they can possibly afford to get out of a situation that about 99.9% of us cannot even begin to really imagine. And to find another life in which they maybe, just maybe, will be whole again.

Like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Somaly Mam is a voice and a light in the dark reality that many children and women endure every hour of every day.

May those voices never be silenced.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010

No comments:

Post a Comment